Editor’s Note: Jaroslav Romanchuk lives in Minsk, Belarus. He is the Executive Director of the Analytical Center “Strategy,” President of the Scientific Research Mises Center, and was a candidate for President of Belarus in 2010. He won the Atlas Economic Research Foundation Sir Anthony Fisher Award in 2009 for his book, In Search of an Economic Miracle, and in 2006 for Belarus: Road to the Future. He served on the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus Commission for Economic Policy and Reforms, the Presidential Council for Entrepreneurship Development, the Working Group on Tax Reform, and was Deputy Chairman of the United Civil Party.
Romanchuk has been involved with The Atlas Society since the 1990s. He spoke with me from his home in Minsk via Zoom.
We talked about his introduction to capitalism and Ayn Rand in post-Soviet Belarus:
It was the luckiest of luck. Back in 1993, a group of Americans came to Belarus on a fact-finding mission. Charles and Susanna Tomlinson were part of that group. I was involved in arranging the various meetings in Belarus, and I assisted the Tomlinsons throughout the trip. We talked about life in post-Soviet Belarus. They were very curious to learn about it. And I was very curious about what life in the capitalist west looked like, which was a beacon of freedom for all of us.
We got along, and after they went home, they sent me a copy of Atlas Shrugged. I’d never heard of this book, even though I had majored in literature at Minsk Linguistic University. No one had ever mentioned it. The first thing I read is, “Who Is John Galt?” I thought it was some kind of sophisticated idiom. I asked my professors what it meant. Nobody knew.
That really ignited my interest in the book. I was mesmerized, shocked –– you name it. And I wanted to learn more.
And about his introduction to The Atlas Society:
In 1997, when I was exploring Objectivism and the philosophy of freedom in depth, I joined a think tank in Belarus that was writing about those ideas. I was invited to Rome for a liberty conference, whether I met Linda Abrams and friends of the Tomlinsons. From there I got an invitation to attend an Atlas Summit. So I went, thinking how the world can bring unexpected meetings that really have long-lasting effects on people’s lives. I call Charles and Susanna my dear American parents. That was the beginning.
He also talked about what it is like to be a practicing Objectivist in Belarus, including his campaign for President in 2010:
I joined the United Civil Party, which is a political party that opposes Alexander Lukashenko, becoming Vice Chairman. I drafted all the major documents for the opposition for 11 years, including a new tax code, privatization laws, pension reform––all based on free-market ideas and the idea that human beings must be the center of any policy.
Then I started writing books. And I ran for Parliament three times and for President in 2010. I’m probably the only Objectivist presidential candidate in the world.
That campaign was very tough. At one point in 2010 it became a matter of life and death. It was a very painful, stressful situation. There was a lot of blackmail, slander and lies about me going around. Other people used lies and fakes to sabotage my candidacy before people had the chance to get to know me.
I quit politics in 2011 and concentrated instead on promoting ideas. I am the number one economist on social media. I have over 250,000 - 300,000 followers on social media, which for Belarus is huge.
I asked him about the extent to which he is free to broadcast his views:
It’s all relative. Every regime has its own restrictions and limitations. If I started to talk about Lukoshenko’s personal life, his wealth, his lovers, his corruption, I’d get pushback saying, “Okay, give me the facts. But in Belarus, you don’t have any facts. You have suspicion.
So I concentrate my efforts on economics, social security, business climate reform, youth policy, tax reform.
And why he stays in Belarus:
I’ve got two kids. I travel a lot to different countries doing training and giving talks on issues that I’m an expert on. As long as I can function like that, it's fine. I can definitely visit universities and think tanks worldwide.
Although he’s no longer welcome in the European Union:
Last October I started talking about corruption in Belarus and Lithuania. Belarus is one of the biggest smugglers of cigarettes in the region. You have two big tobacco plants. I said, “Okay, I understand that in Belarus that’s business, but how come Belarus is the biggest exporter of cigarettes to the European Union? Cigarettes were being smuggled into Europe, and I began to look for the point of entry, and I found out that it is Lithuania. Then the Lithuanian government blacklisted me, and now I can no longer enter the European Union.
Through it all, he’s never stopped loving Atlas Shrugged:
It ignited my interest in money, in the morality of money. Galt’s Speech is wonderful. The idea that the entrepreneur is the most valuable source of progress. I didn’t know that. I was raised in the Soviet Union. That was never explained. For me, it was Marx, Lenin, and the three factors of productivity, of capital: land, labor, and money. That was it. Nobody ever mentioned entrepreneurship.
But he is too busy to read much fiction these days, preferring to leverage his social media presence on reform by addressing five widespread levels of ignorance: tax ignorance, financial ignorance, budgetary ignorance, civic ignorance, and political ignorance.