Participating Countries

This page presents background information on the participating countries in "Youth for Democracy."

 

Belarus

Name: Republic of Belarus (Belarus)
Capital: Minsk
Census: 9.5 million
Government/Regime:
- Chief of State: Aleksandr Lukashenko
- Head of Government: Mikhail Myasnikovich
Year of Independence: August 25th, 1991 (from the Soviet Union)
GDP (total): 54.7 billion USD
GNI (per capita): 13.600 USD

 

Brief History – Independence: After World War I Belarus became part of the newly established Soviet Union. The country was part of the Soviet Union for 70 years with the exception of a few years. During World War II, Belarus was under German occupation. On 25 August 1991 the country declared independence.

Politics: Belarus is formally a democratic republic, but it is a dictatorship in reality. The first-elected president in Belarus was Aleksandr Lukashenko. He was elected in 1994 and is still in power today. Belarusian government continues to have close relations to Russia.
The country is extensively criticized by numerous human rights organizations, especially because of the governmental restrictions on freedom of speech, the press and the right to assembly. The Council of Europe has barred Belarus from EU membership since 1997, because of human rights violations and election irregularities.

Economy: The Belarusian economy revolves around what president Lukashenko has termed “market socialism” which includes, among other things, the state’s right to intervene in the management of private companies. Hence, it is a state controlled economy. The majority works in the industry and service sectors. Belarus has formed a custom union together with Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia continues to be Belarus’ largest trade partner.

Demography: Both Belarusian and Russian are the official languages, and the largest ethnic groups are Belarusians and Russians. Over 80 percent of the population belongs to the Russian Orthodox Christianity. The life expectancy is 71.2 years old, and as in many other European countries the fertility rate is low, 1.26 children born per woman.

 

Burma

Name: Burma (Myanmar)
Capital: Naypyidaw
Census: 56,000,000
Government type: Parliamentary democracy/Military regime
- Chief of State: President Thein Sein
- Head of Government: Prime Minister Thein Sein
Year of Independence: 4 January, 1948
GDP (total): 43 billion USD
GNI (per capita): 578.3 USD

 

Brief History – Independence: Since independence from British rule in 1948, the country has been in a civil war that has been termed “the oldest ongoing war in the world”; the conflict remains unresolved between the myriad ethnic groups that exist in the country. General Ne Win ruled along with other top military officials until 1974, when a one-party system was established. Ne Win effectively ruled as head of the Burma Socialist Programme Party until 1988, during which period Burma became one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Partly as an effect of the pro-democracy demonstration in 1988 known as the “8888 Uprising”, free elections were held in 1990; the result of these was annulled, though, and changing dictators has ruled the country since then. Historically, most ethnic groups have fought for independence in opposition to the military regime that sought to maintain a united Burma. From the 1990’s and onwards, however, ethnic groups have generally supported a Burma with a federal structure.

Politics: After struggling with the forming of a democratic republic until 1962, Burma has been ruled by a military junta. Based on a general election in 2010, however, the junta dissolved in March of this year. The election was the fifth step of the seven-step “roadmap to democracy” proposed by the State Peace and Development Council; this roadmap also includes the third and current Burmese constitution that was introduced in 2008. It is unclear to what extent the new government, led by Thein Sein, is a product of the old military regime; internationally, the election was condemned as fraudulent. Admittedly few in number, actions have been taken lately to make Burma seem more open to international observers.

Economy: Burma is among the poorest countries in the world due to pervasive government control, inefficient economic policies and widespread corruption. The US, the EU and Canada have imposed financial and economic sanctions on Burma as a reaction to the atrocities that have been committed during the rule of the military junta.

Demography: Burma has a population of about 56 million, though no credible census has occurred since the 1930’s; roughly 89% of the population is Buddhist. Literacy is relatively high with almost 90% of the population being able to read. Life expectancy is around 63 years.

 

Egypt

Name: Arab Republic of Egypt
Capital: Cairo
Census: 82,000,000
GDP (total): 497.8 billion USD
GNI (per capita): 2,440 USD

 

Brief History – Independence: In 1882, Britain seized control of Egypt ostensibly to protect its investments, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty with the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy in 1952.

Politics: The official government type is republican democracy. The country is divided into 29 administrative governorates.

Following eighteen days of popular protests, President Muhamed Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11, 2011. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces assumed the president’s responsibilities, dissolved the constitution and vowed to oversee a peaceful transition process leading to free and fair presidential elections. As a result the position as president is currently vacant while Essam Sharaf temporarily holds the position of Prime Minister.

Economy: Most economic activity takes place in the highly fertile Nile valley. Half of the labor force is occupied with services, of which agriculture and industry make up 32 and 17 percent respectively. Egypt's economy was highly centralized during the rule of former President Gamal A. Nasser but opened up considerably under former presidents Anwar El-Sadat and Mubarak. Despite relatively high levels of economic growth over the past few years, living conditions for the average Egyptian remain poor and the income level is classified as “lower middle” by the World Bank. Recently, the global economic slowdown has severely impacted Egypt’s real GDP growth, fiscal balances, inflation and poverty levels.

Demography: The Egyptian population is the largest in the Arab world and growing rapidly with an annual growth rate of close to 2 percent. With 99.6 percent ethnic Egyptians, Egypt has a very ethnically homogenous population. The official language is Arabic - 90 percent of the population is Muslim (mostly Sunni) and 9 percent Coptic.

 

Serbia

Name: Republic of Serbia (Republika Srbija/ Република Србија)
Capital: Belgrade (Beograd)
Census: 7,306,677 (2010 Republic census)
Government/Regime: Parliamentary Republic
- Chief of State: President Boris Tadić
- Head of Government: Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković
Year of Independence: June 5th 2006 (from Serbia and Montenegro)
GDP (total): 40.28 billion USD (2010 est.)
GDP (per capita): 5,370 USD (2010 est.)
GNI (per capita): 11,230 USD (2010 est.)

 

Brief History – Independence: In 1989 Slobodan Milošević became president of Serbia and his ultranationalist calls for Serbian domination was one of the factors that led to the violent breakup of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) along ethnic lines. In 1991, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia declared independence, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in April 1992.

Under Milošević's leadership, Serbia led various military campaigns to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a "Greater Serbia". These actions were mostly unsuccessful and led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. Milošević became president of the FRY in 1997. Routine federal elections in September 2000 resulted in a narrow official victory for Milosevic. However, opposition parties accused Milošević of electoral fraud. A campaign of civil resistance followed, led by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), a broad coalition of anti-Milošević parties. This culminated on October 5th when half a million people from all over the country congregated in Belgrade, compelling Milošević to concede defeat. Hereafter Vojislav Koštunica was proclaimed new president of FRY.

In 2003, the FRY parliament ratified the Constitutional Charter, establishing a new state union and changing the name of the country from FRY to Serbia and Montenegro that was a loose federation of the two republics, and a successor to the FRY. The Republic of Montenegro declared independence on June 3rd, 2006. Thereafter on June 5th, 2006, the National Assembly of Serbia stated that the newly named Republic of Serbia was the continuity of the state union.

Politics: In February 2008, the province of Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia - an action Serbia refuses to recognize. The Serbian Government challenged the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which issued an advisory opinion in July 2010 stating that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was in accordance with international law. Following the ICJ advisory opinion, Serbia agreed to engage in an EU-facilitated dialogue with Kosovo on practical issues, which began in Brussels in March 2011.

Economy: Serbia is a transitional economy with unfinished privatization and incomplete structural reforms. Serious challenges include an inefficient judicial system, high levels of corruption and an aging population. Factors favorable to Serbia's economic growth include a strategic location, a relatively inexpensive and skilled labor force, and a generous package of incentives for foreign investments.

Demography: Ethnic groups: Serb 82.9%, Hungarian 3.9%, Romany (Gypsy) 1.4%, Yugoslavs 1.1%, Bosniaks 1.8%, Montenegrin 0.9%, other 8% (2002 census) Religions: Serbian Orthodox 85%, Catholic 5.5%, Protestant 1.1%, Muslim 3.2%, unspecified 2.6%, other, unknown, or atheist 2.6% (2002 census) Languages: Serbian (official) 88.3%, Hungarian 3.8%, Bosniak 1.8%, Romany (Gypsy) 1.1%, other 4.1%, unknown 0.9% (2002 census)

 

Syria

Name: Syria Arab Republic (Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah)
Capital: Damascus
Year of Independence: 17 April 1946 (From France Mandate)
Census: 22,000,000
Government/Regime: Republic under an authoritarian regime
- President: Bashar al-Assad
- Head of Government: Prime Minister Adil Safr (Since 14 April 2011)
GDP (total): 107.4 billion USD (2010 est.)
GDP (per capita): 4,800 USD (2010 est.)

 

Brief History –Independence: When Syria gained formal independence from France in 1946, it lacked political stability and in the period of 1949-1970 the country was shocked by a large number of military coup attempts. In 1963 the Arab Socialist Baath Party seized power and transformed Syria into a one-party state governed under Emergency law. Up until this day, Syria is still governed under Emergency law, effectively suspending most constitutional rights like the freedom of assembly and free speech.

Politics: The Baath Party and its several small coalition partners continue to be the only legal political parties. Under the 1973 constitution, the president is nominated by the ruling Baath Party and approved by popular referendum for seven-year terms. In practice, these referendums are orchestrated by the regime, as are elections, and its system of government is considered non-democratic.
In July 2000 President Bashar al-Assad was approved president by popular referendum, preceding his father Hafiz al-Assad, a member of the Socialist Baath Party and the minority Alawite sect, who seized power in a bloodless coup in November 1970. President Bashar al-Assad pledged to liberalize Syria’s politics and economy, and though the first six months of his presidency featured some progress, like the release of political prisoners and open discussion of the country’s problems, in February 2000 the regime abruptly halted this so-called Damascus Spring.

Economy: Syria is a middle-income country, with an economy based mainly on agriculture and oil, but also industry and tourism. Syria’s economic growth remained in the 4-5% range in 2008-10, even though the global economic crisis affected oil prices and the economies of Syria’s key export partners and sources of investment. However, Syria’s economy faces serious challenges due to low efficiency and high levels of corruption and central planning. Furthermore, Syria has low rates of investment and a high population growth rate adds to a high level of unemployment. In relation to the riots starting in 2011, the EU and USA have placed an export ban and prohibited financial dealings with the regime.

Demography: Syria has a young population, with more than one-third of Syrians under age 15 and 60% under 30. Only about half the country’s land can support population, more than 50 percent of the population lives in the two cities of Aleppo and Damascus. Syria’s population consists of 74% Sunni Muslim, 16% other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze), 10% Christian (various denominations) and Jewish (small communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo). Arabic is the official language.

 

Venezuela

Name: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Venezuela)
Capital: Caracas
Census: 27.6 million
Government/Regime: Federal Republic
Chief of State: President Hugo Chavez
Head of Government: President Hugo Chavez
Year of Independence: 1811 (from Spain)
GDP (total): 290.7 billion USD
GNI (per capita): 12.700 USD

 

Brief History – Independence: Venezuela was conquered by Spain in 1522, but gained independence in 1811. It was not until 1830 that this independence was rightly secured. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Venezuela was ruled by military strongmen and thus politically unstable. An economic crisis due to the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s and 1990s led to a riot and attempts of coup d’état.

Politics: Hugo Chavez has been the president of Venezuela since 2 February 1999, and his self-declared mission is to bring “21st century socialism” to the Venezuelan people. This has affected the democratic institutions, politicized the military and the free media. Furthermore, Chavez changed the legislation so that the president from now on can be re-elected unlimited times. Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a highly critical report on Venezuela in 2008 saying that the government was violating fundamental human rights. Two senior members of HRW were expelled on this background.

Economy: Venezuela has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world. Even though the country is rich on its natural reserves, 37.9 percent (from 2005) lives below the poverty line. The oil and natural gas sectors are also known for their high levels of corruption.

Demography: Spanish is the official language, but there are numerous indigenous dialects. The ethnic groups in Venezuela consist of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African and indigenous people. Approximately 96 percent of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic faith. The vast majority of Venezuelans lives in the cities in the north, especially the capital Caracas.

 

Zimbabwe

Name: Republic of Zimbabwe
Capital: Harare
Census: 12,000,000
Government/Regime: Parliamentary democracy
Year of Independence: 1980
GDP (total): 7.5 billion USD
GNI (per capita): 460 USD

 

Brief History – Independence: The country was a British colony from 1923 under the name of South Rhodesia until it gained independence in 1980. Leading up to this were 15 years of national unrest and the country experienced periodic clashes between nationalist guerrilla groups, who had bases in Mozambique and Zambia, and Rhodesian security forces backed by the apartheid rule in South Africa.

Politics: Zimbabwe is formally a parliamentary democracy where Robert Mugabe has been the country’s only ruler since independence. First, he was elected prime minister and he has later served as president since 1987. His party, Zanu-PF, has rigged elections throughout the 2000s and used fraud and intimidation in order to secure the reelection of Mugabe.

The elections in 2008 caused unrest in the country. In the first round, leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the most votes, but not enough to secure a majority. So a run-off election against Mugabe was necessary. Considerable violence against politicians from the opposition led to Tsvangirai withdrawing from running for presidency. The elections were strongly condemned by the international community, and resulted in a power-sharing agreement in 2009 where Mugabe remained president and Tsvangirai became prime minister.

Economy: The economy is organized around the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors, and the latter employs 66% of the population. Mugabe’s land reform from the late 1990s has damaged the commercial farming sector resulting in reduced productivity and turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of food products.

During the 2000s, the Zimbabwean economy experienced contraction, but in both 2009 and 2010 there was a GDP growth rate of 6% and 9% respectively. Some of the bigger economic challenges are a huge external debt burden and insufficient formal employment. Also, until the power-sharing agreement in 2009, Zimbabwe had problems with hyperinflation causing a dramatic drop in both imports and exports.
The most important trading partners are the neighboring countries of South Africa and Botswana as well as DR Congo, China, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Demography: English is the official language of Zimbabwe, and the largest ethnic groups are the Shonas and Ndebele. Whites constitute less than 1% of the population. Almost the entire population belong to the Christian and/or indigenous belief systems.

The life expectancy of the 12 million Zimbabweans is 50 years, making it one of the lowest in the world (Denmark is 79 years). Despite the 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwe is by far the fastest growing population in the world with an annual population growth rate of 4.31%. Zimbabweans receive on average 9 years of schooling, and has a high literacy rate of 92%.