Belarusians Want Reforms, Enterpreneurs Protest, New Education Initiatives – Belarus Civil Society Digest
New polls suggest that in the current environment Aliaksandr Lukashenka remains the most trusted politician in Belarus but Belarusians want reforms, in the first place of its political system.
The recently released political prisoner Ales Bialiatski is meeting with top European politicians.
Education initiatives and debates keep civil society activists busy in Belarus this summer. Entrepreneurs protest against new regulations adopted in accordance with new Customs Union rules.
BISS Poll: Attitude to Reforms. The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) has released the data of a public poll under the REFORUM project.
The research reveals the general attitude of ordinary citizens as well as representatives of civil society and political opposition to reforms and identifying high-priority areas. Thus, 75.6% of Belarusians consider reforms necessary and wants reforms in health sector above all. According to representatives of civil society the main area of reform should be a political system.
Trust to Lukashenka continues to rise. The Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) has released the results of a national survey conducted in June 2014. According to the poll, the level of trust to the president continues to rise: in December he was trusted by 37.7% Belarusians, in March – 45.9%, and in June – 49.6%. At the same time, popularity ratings of all potential opposition presidential candidates combined do not exceed 20%.
'Learning Region' Adukatar. Association for Life Long Education (ALLE) has released a regular issue of its thematic magazine Adukatar. The issue is devoted to the 'learning region' concept that is defined as any regional competitiveness in the modern world by its ability to learn. The 'learning region' is shown to readers as a theoretical construct as well as its implementation on the European continent and in Belarus.
Distance learning for Human Rights advocates. The International Human Rights House Network announces a call for applications to participate in distance learning program for lawyers and experts from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. 125 participants – 25 fellows from each country – will pass theoretical and practical training in applying the concept of human rights and international legal standards in the national and international legal protection. The course is certified by European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania).
Golden Age University invites to a methodological Summer School on education for the elderly. The School is to be held on 6-10 August in the Grodno region; it aims to share Belarusian and foreign experience on the methodology of social enhancing of the elderly. The organisers are welcome representatives of community and government organisations that already have or plan to start educational and outreach programs for the elderly. The University works at the Third Sector Centre NGO in Grodno from 2010.
Debates and projects
What young Belarusians want. On 1 July in Minsk, the Liberal Club held a roundtable discussion titled as Youth Policy Concept in Belarus: What Young People Really Want? At the meeting, the experts presented an updated concept of youth policy and launched a debate on how to satisfy the real needs and interests of the youth. Thus, organisers hope to contribute to the country's national security and to meet the challenge of a high level of dissatisfaction of young Belarusians and their strong desire to leave the country.
Ales Bialiatski visits Brussels and Strasbourg. Ales Bialiatski, head of the Human Rights Centre Viasna meets with European diplomats and journalists such as the newly elected President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, EU Commissioner Stefan Fule, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland, etc. Remind that on June 21, Ales Bialiatski was released from prison under an amnesty having served almost three years for tax evasion. On 27 June in Vilnius, Ales Bialiatski gave a press conference for the Lithuanian media (full video).
First city-game "Skhvatka" in Belarusian language would take place under the slogan "Let the Glory of Orsha be eternal!". For the first time the city-game "Skhvatka" will be held In Belarusian language. It will be devoted to 500th Anniversary of Orsha battle. The game will have a format of bicycle ride with a team contribution of 30 US dollars. One can become a part of the game joining its website or official public account at social networks.
Festival of Belarusian Advertisement and communication Ad.nak! celebrates its fifth anniversary (picture at the top). Traditionally organised by civil cultural campaign Budzma and web-portal Marketing.by Festival is steel increasing in numbers. This year the Festival has collected more than 400 works from almost 200 participants. 6 Grand Prix (2 – last year), 17 first places (6 – last year), 33 second and 41 third places given. The fifth edition was the first one to bring collaboration with general partner on business side which was the oldest mobile operator Velcom.
Projects on social inclusion
Accessibility Week summarizes results. Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities summarises the results of the Accessibility Week that held in Belarus for the second time. The Week lasted from 1 to 15 June and took place not only in Minsk, but also in other cities of Belarus: Hrodna, Kobryn, Zhytkavichy, Lida, Smarhon, Baran', Babruisk. The Week included 14 events attended by more than 400 people.
UNDP initiative "Inclusiveness after 2015: social collaboration of disabled in Belarus" has started. The program has started in May 2014 and its aim is to impove the life and deepen involvement of people with disabilities into community life.
The communicational core of the action is an internet platform, where everyone willing can write down his own story or the story he witnessed. When the pull of the stories is collected it will be analysed by special program, working out a new approach to further development of disabled involvement. The approach would be used for further spreading among civil, business, governmental and international organisations.
Interaction between state and civil society
Entrepreneurs try to defend their interest through Forum and strike. On 30 June in the Minsk hotel Belarus, 235 entrepreneurs from across the country gathered at their regular forum, organised by the republican public association Perspectiva.
Entrepreneurs urged not to sign the decree that requires that from 1 July light industry goods should be imported to Belarus only with documents on compliance with special technical regulations of the Customs Union. The next day, on 1 July entrepreneurs from different cities of Belarus went on strike.
Campaign of Belarusian language defense at Constitutional court has started. Friends of civil initiative "Rada of Belarusian intelligence" have signed a petition in defence of Belarusian language to Constitutional court. The example of the petition was worked out by Belarusian Helsinki Committee chairperson Harry Paganiajla. One can simple cache and sign the example and read methodical recommendations.
New public hearings are announced on Kurapaty building project. Minsk municipality has decided to run another round of hearings on city development project of detailed planning of territories near Kurapaty. This information is coming out of the list of head of architecture branch of municipality. During first hearings many remarks were made and were supported by expert board on situation around Kurapaty and second round has to fix misunderstanding between authorities and activists.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Political Sphere Journal Discusses the Problems of Belarusian Intellectuals
The 21st issue of the Political Sphere journal considers the current intellectual situation in Belarus in the context of its authoritarian political regime, the structural problems of the development of the Belarusian state and nation, and the constantly changing regional and global environment.
Political Sphere is a leading Belarusian academic journal in the social sciences with a special focus on politics. It has been published by the Institute of Political Studies ‘Political Sphere’ since 2001.
The issue presents a history of the formation of Marxist philosophy in early Soviet Belarus, a review of a doctoral thesis from an official local institution that demonstrates well the ongoing crisis in the social sciences, and a poll of prominent intellectuals regarding their views on Belarusian national development. The second part of the issue extensively examines the situation of modern thinking and challenges Belarusian intellectuals .
In the Intellectual History section of the journal, Ivan Novik shows how the Marxist paradigm was established and institutionalised in science and education during the first decades of the Soviet regime's rule in Belarus. The article examines the influence of famous Soviet philosophers who were born in and made their academic careers in Belarus – Siamion Valfson, Salamon Kacenbohen, Ruvim Vydra, Bernard Bychoŭski – on the creation of Soviet Marxism.
Soviet ideology was able to obtain complete ideological domination and how those who disagreed with it were excluded from intellectual circles Read more
The author shows how Soviet ideology was able to obtain complete ideological domination and how those who disagreed with it were excluded from intellectual circles. But unlike in 1920s, the years of creation of Soviet Marxism and its transmission, in the 1930s Belarusian Soviet intellectuals shifted their scholarly focus to the legitimisation of Stalinist repression.
The next section presents a review of a doctoral thesis which was defended at the Faculty of International Relations of Belarusian State University. The thesis discusses the foreign policy of Iraq in 2003-2011. The author of the review works as an expert at the Highest Attestation Committee – a state institution which decides on whether or not an individual will be awarded an academic degree.
In the introduction to the document Andrej Kazakievič demonstrates that in fact the Committee declined the dissertation because the author did not use a particular conspiracy theory in his argument and, to make matters more complicated, he also lacked the ideological accuracy and requisite anti-Americanism. The review, for its part, has no academic argumentation whatsoever to supports its claims and demonstrates the depth of degeneration in state-run political science departments.
The discussion section of the issue presents a poll of several well-known Belarusian intellectuals on three main questions: what is the impact of intellectuals on contemporary Belarusain society and culture? What can justify the continued existence of intellectual thought in modern Belarus, as social sciences and humanities are playing an increasingly minor role in society? And what is the biggest current challenge for Belarusian intellectuals in terms of thought, the current social situation and culturally?
The rest of articles form a section that discusses the state of modern thinking in Belarus. Valiancin Akudovič in his text suggests three stages of modern Belarusian thinking: the end of 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, when creation of Belarusian philosophy in the context of a national culture occurred and it dissociated itself with the prevailing institutionalised philosophy, which it viewed as dogmatic and anti-Belarusian.
In 2000-2010, intellectuals mainly focused on personal and collective projects instead of conceptual ones, especially those with a national flavour. At that time they also returned to being on good terms with the academic community. Today, Akudovič states, intellectuals do not see any real tasks to solve in front of them as philosophy is facing a major crisis and is merging with literature.
The intellectual arena became politicised and polarised on the grounds of language, history and culture Read more
In describing the development of the field of philosophy in Belarus, Tacciana Ščytcova employs the concept of “the negative dialectics of liberation”, where liberation means de-ideologisation. Deprived of an ideological framework, philosophy in Belarus appeared to lack academic and public recognition for its activity. The collision of three contexts – global, regional and national, and a political task of formation of national project complicated the issue even more.
The intellectual arena became politicised and polarised on the grounds of language, history and culture, but all camps now face a common threat – the decline of classical philosophy, when knowledge becomes a means of seeking utility. In the end, the author leaves it an open question on whether or not philosophy can survive at alll in current Belarusian regime.
the majority of Belarusian intellectuals and researchers fail to resolve practical problems Read more
Tacciana Vadalažskaja states that the works of the majority of Belarusian intellectuals and researchers fail to resolve practical problems, and the results of their activity do not reach the general public. Belarus thus lacks philosophical thinking and inquiry as a widespread practice, and it also lacks the infrastructure of thinking which can transmit it to new generations. Individuals and organisations do exist, but sustained schools of thought have not yet appeared.
Pavel Barkoŭski looks at the current situation surrounding Belarusian philosophy through the lens of a situation filled with uncertainty and dwelling at the crossroads. Belarus is in fact but a part of the intellectual periphery of Europe. Belarusian intellectuals themselves are struggling with whether they should accept eastern or western patterns of thinking and reject local approaches as being alien and provincial, which in the end promotes a kind of colonial style of thinking.
Belarusian intellectuals themselves are struggling with whether they should accept eastern or western patterns of thinking Read more
To overcome this, the author suggest a few directions for the nation's overall intellectual development: historicise the thinking, or understand one's place between the past and future. Furthermore, people should continue working with the deconstruction and reconstruction of meanings, which vanish in modern societies. Society should also strive to rid Belarusian philosophy of its universality of thinking and contextualise it. Finally, promote philosophy as a search for the unknown and make it practical at the same time.
Ihar Padporyn in his article describes a few major problems that Belarusian official intellectuals have: thinking within a framework that the authorities have set up for them in order to reap the benefits from regime support; trying to scientifically justify and elaborate everything that Aleksandr Lukashenka says; using Marxist-Leninist terminology to explain modern society and ignoring western theories and approaches; using outdated approaches to develop practical recommendations; writing vague and unclear texts.
the regime is not interested in critically thinking people and therefore does not support either social sciences or the humanities criticising them Read more
Viačaslaŭ Babrovič in his analysis uses the analogy of a patriarchal family, in contrast with intellectuals who believe they have the role of an “unloved child”. He claims that the regime is not interested in critically thinking people and therefore does not support either social sciences or the humanities, criticising them for a lack of efficiency and practical results.
On the other hand, official intellectuals carry out their work only formally, having no incentives and freedom for development and creativity. Babrovič also claims that 2010 protest put a clear division among Belarusian intellectuals, those supporting and opposing the regime.
Aliaksandr Sarna defines an intellectual as a composition of three aspects – an erudite, who has certain knowledge, an expert – a person, who not only possesses knowledge but is able to apply it practically in social projects, and an intelligent – a nation’s moral authority and protector of public interest.
In practise, however, intellectuals cannot usually balance these aspects and have to act as double agents, separating private life from state and society. Otherwise, they become a function of the system. To avoid this, intellectuals should not identify themselves with business and state and instead critically discuss their operation.
The issue also publishes a number of book reviews about social sciences and history, which study Belarus and the Eastern European region.