World-leading IT firms maintain offices at Minsk high-tech park
More than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Belarusian capital Minsk retains many of the hallmarks of the Communist era.
But, in at least one corner of the city, cutting-edge, 21st century technology is at the forefront. This high-tech park is home to a number of global IT firms. Among those who have an office here is the Cyprus-based Wargaming, the creators of worldwide smash hit World of Tanks.
The game is one of the five most popular in Europe and the US. It boasts 100 million players worldwide who take part in virtual battles in World War II-era tanks.
Wargaming is not alone. U.S.-based EPAM Systems, which was founded by two Belarusians in 1993, also has a presence at the Minsk high-tech park. The company has seen annual growth of more than 20% for more than five years. Nearly one-third of its global technical staff is based in Belarus. The firm's HR director says support from the state is crucial to the industry as a whole.
Jaroslav Tomilchik, Epam Systems Human Resources Director: "Among the most important factors remains a strong school for preparing professional engineers. But another very important factor is state policy towards the IT industry and the fact the High-Tech Park was created by presidential decree. The very fact of this park's existence gave a huge impulse to the development of the IT industry in general."
It is hoped the hi-tech park can act as a model for the rest of the country. It grew in 2015 by 20% and is expected to do the same this year. That comes in contrast to Belarusian GDP which fell by 4% in 2015. The park's director believes human capital is key to success.
Valery Tsepkalo, High-Tech Park Director: "The Republic of Belarus does not have resources. We do not have oil, or gas, or ferrous or non-ferrous metals. So it is obvious that the only thing we could rely on, in this case, was mental power, education and the abilities of our people. And first of all young people."
Such aspirations are already being fulfilled. Elena Shkarubo is one of a new generation of Belarusians who have seen the success of multinationals. She is now establishing her own IT businesses.
Elena Shkarubo, Meetandgreetme Co-Founder: "I do not know what I will tell you in a year. But right now I am saying that this is the business which I would like to be in for the whole of my life, to develop it and to introduce something new into it."
The tech sector is one of the few success stories in a Belarusian economy largely dominated by inefficient state-run enterprises. Authoritarian president Lukashenko once called the internet ‘garbage.' But interference in the IT industry has been minimal. And many are hoping it stays that way.