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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Maker Finds Success in Belarus




MINSK, Belarus -- The scene could have been taken from any Western corporate boardroom.


The director of the television plant whisked colorful transparencies of pie charts and bar graphs on and off the overhead projector, as sleek, modern-looking samples of the factory's television sets flickered gently against one wall.


"The Belarussian example proves that if they are given a push, our firms are able to supply our consumers with quality cheap TVs," a nattily dressed Vladimir Semashko rattled off briskly from the distant end of the table.


Times have certainly changed since Lee Harvey Oswald, a former employee at the Gorizont factory, and better known as the assassin of late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, helped assemble televisions for the Soviet masses in the 1960s.


While Belarus is a still a notable island of Soviet nostalgia and Soviet-style politics in the post-Soviet world, Semashko's story flies squarely in the face of expectations of shoddy products and sloppy standards.


He says costs have been slashed and production made profitable while foreign competitors agree that product quality meets Western standards.


Indeed, his factory seems a veritable prodigy in Belarus' state-fueled economy. "With a certain amount of support from the state, a factory really can get back on its feet," he said.


Gorizont, following the same path being taken by Moscow television maker Rubin, has updated models and raised quality with the most modern technology, including that from the Dutch firm Philips.


"Nine out of every 10 televisions sold in Belarus are now Belarussian," Semashko said, contrasting the situation with that just a few years ago when the shops were filled with imported models.


"A 53 centimeter Gorizont television costs $145, an imported set is about $450, and there we go," one foreign competitor said.


Hefty import duties on imported televisions as well as last year's currency collapse have played as much of a role in the success of Gorizont's TVs as has their quality.


But the fact that the firm's profit and loss accounts are a commercial secret makes Gorizont's success in Western market terms hard to measure, and Semashko is coy about how much government help the plant receives.


Moreover, Semashko's experiences equally demonstrate the economic distortions with which Belarus's statist policies hinder the work of domestic and foreign businesses.


Rules forcing firms to sell a hefty chunk of their hard-currency earnings for rubles and making access to hard currency all but impossible except for critical imports make his cathode-ray tube imports a major headache.