Millionaires in Belarus are in abundance; in fact it is safe to say that nearly all of the Belarusian citizens have the status of a millionaire. For those that have not visited Belarus yet, your initial response might be-wow, Belarus is one rich country, when in fact the reason for the large number of millionaires is down to the national currency, the Belarusian ruble (BYR) with the symbol Br-which is in the high denominations of 100,200, 500, 1000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 200,000 rublei as it stands today. In exchange terms if you have $100 and you exchange it for BYR, you will get in excess of 1million Belarusian rublei for your money, thus making you a millionaire on the spot! The Belarusian ruble has gone through a lot of changes in its history, and new changes are imminent in the near future, which could see the end of millionaires in Belarus as we know it.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union which subsequently saw Belarus gain its independence, banknotes of the State Bank of the USSR were in circulation in The Republic of Belarus for some time and this was then followed by banknotes issued by the Bank of Russia. May 1992, is the year the first Belarusian ruble was printed, because up until this point Belarus did not have a license or in fact the capacity to be able to print Soviet Union banknotes. During this time, there was a demand from the former Soviet enterprises that goods were to be bought and sold on the market, which often required cash settlement, and it was at this point that the Belarusian government came to an agreement to introduce their own national currency in an effort to ease up the situation with cash, by using it as a supplement with the Soviet ruble and the Russian ruble and as a result 1, 3, 5,10, 25,50 and 100 rublei denominations were established, this was followed by the addition of 200 and 500 rublei in the same year, 1,000 rublei in 1993, 5,000 and 20,000 rublei in 1994, 50,000 rublei in 1995 ,100,000 rublei in 1996, 500,000 rublei in 1998, 1,000,000 and 5,000,000 rublei in 1999.
The introduction of the higher denominations was due to inflation, which happened fairly quickly. The first set of banknotes that were printed had an animal theme, which included a hare, a beaver, a squirrel, wolves, a lynx, an elk, a bear and a bison; which was deemed to be a symbol of Belarus. When the 200 and 500 rublei were printed, the theme changed to famous landmarks, monuments and buildings in Belarus.
The Belarusian ruble did eventually replace the Soviet and the Russian ruble, although it did take two years and various developments before it was declared as the official currency of The Republic of Belarus, in May 1994.
In the year 2000, the second Belarusian ruble was introduced which replaced the first at a rate of 1000 old rubles=1 new ruble. This was a redenomination whereby three zeros were removed. Only banknotes where issued at this point, and the only set of coins that were issued were purely for a commemorative purpose for collectors.
The new set of denominations was 1,5,10,20,100,500,1,000 and 5,000 rublei. 2001 saw the addition of higher denominations of 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 rublei, which was eventually followed by 100,000 rublei in 2005 and there was also the addition of the 200,000 bill, a few years down the line.
On September 1st 2010, new rules of Belarusian orthography came into effect. There was a discrepancy in the way ‘fifty’ was spelt according to the old rules and the new rules. The difference was fairly minor in that the seventh character of the old spelling of ‘fifty’ in Russian was the Cyrillic letter IE where as according to the new rules it should have been written as the Cyrillic letter YA. For this very reason, the existing 50 and 50,000 ruble notes dated 2000, were deemed to contain errors thus on December 29th 2010, the National Bank of Belarus, printed new 50 and 50,000 ruble banknotes, keeping in line with the new rules. As it happens, the modified 50 ruble banknote is no longer in circulation in Belarus to date.
Belarus and Russia: A monetary integration
From the onset of his presidency in 1994, President Alexander Lukashenko was drawn to the idea of integration with Russia and was keen to take steps in making the idea come to life. In addition, there were also talks about introducing a united currency for Belarus and Russia; Article 13 of the 1999 ‘Treaty of Creation of the Union of Russian and Belarus’ foresaw a unified currency. Discussions regarding this union went beyond 2005, which was when the implementation was set to take place.
Interestingly, from 2008, the Central Bank of Belarus announced that the ruble was to be tied to the US dollar instead of the Russian ruble. Stanislav Bogdankevich, a former bank chairman, voiced his opinion regarding this matter and stated that he believed that the decision was purely political and that it was as a result of Belarus’ annoyance at Russia’s decision to increase their oil and gas export prices, as Belarus relied heavily on Russia for their cheap energy supplies.
On January 2nd 2009, the Central Bank of Belarus reduced the exchange rate of the ruble by 20%. May 24th 2011, saw the Central Bank of Belarus lower the exchange rate even further by a staggering 56% and this was due to the crisis that plagued the country. On October 20th 2011, the exchange rate of the ruble dropped by 34.2%. In January 2015, the Central Bank of Belarus, devalued its currency against the US dollar in an effort to contain Russia’s ruble crisis and to prevent it from spreading across the border.
The year 2016, will be the end of an era for millionaires in Belarus as we know it, because in July 2016, a third and new Belarusian ruble will be introduced and it will be at the rate of 1 new ruble=10,000 old rubles so for example the current banknote of the lowest denomination of 100 BYR will be replaced by the lowest denomination of the new currency which will be 1 kopeck (Kopeck: a Russian monetary unit equal to one hundredth of a ruble)
New and old rubles will circulate in parallel from July 1st to December 31st 2016. Belarus will also issue coins for general circulation for the very first time. In total there will be seven denominations of banknotes – 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 rubles and eight denominations of coins – 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 kopecks, and 1 and 2 rubles will be put into circulation as of July 1st 2016.
The concept behind the new design for the banknotes centers on the motto ‘Belarus is my country’. Each banknote will be dedicated to one of the many regions of Belarus and the city of Minsk. Thus, the design of the banknote of 5 ruble denomination is dedicated to Brest region, 10 rubles to Vitebsk region, 20 rubles to Gomel region, 50 rubles to Grodno region, 100 rubles to Minsk region, 200 rubles to Mogilev region and 500 rubles to the city of Minsk. The coins will bear the image of the State Coat of Arms of Belarus and on the reverse will be the numerical symbol of the coins’ denomination.