The first 2020 presidential candidate, a split in trade unions, a visit from Chinese corporations – Belarus state press digest

The Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party nominates its deputy head, Alieh Hajdukievič, as candidate for the 2020 presidential elections and seeks to reform the parliamentary election system. The leader of the Congress of Independent Trade Unions sides with the authorities in the REP tax evasion case.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka reprimands senior officials for delays in collecting the harvest. A delegation of top Chinese corporations visits Minsk to inspect the Great Stone High Tech Park.

Lukashenka demands that the population of Belarus reach 15 million; he also demands that 300,000 citizens go to work. This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.

Domestic politics and security

Deputy head of the Liberal Democratic Party will run for president in 2020. Belarus Segodnia reported the results of the LDP party congress. The leader of the party, Siarhiej Hajdukievič, who has run for president four times, will now yield to his deputy and son, Alieh Hajdukievič. The Liberal Democratic Party has the largest membership of any political party in Belarus, with around 45,000 members. It is one of the few parties with representatives in parliament, other governmental agencies, and the business world.

In anticipation of the presidential elections, the party plans to participate in the 2018 local elections and hopes to put forward the largest possible number of candidates. The party will also lobby for a referendum on the introduction of a mixed-member proportional voting system, which will let more political groups into parliament and strengthen the country’s political culture and democracy.

Leader of the Congress of Independent Trade Unions sides with the authorities in the REP tax evasion case. Narodnaja Hazieta discussed the recent arrests of the leaders of the Independent Trade Union of the Radio Electronic Industry (REP) on tax evasion charges. While civil society claims that the authorities are repressing REP for political reasons, the investigation denies any political pretext, calling it a purely economic crime.

The article quotes the head of the Congress of Independent Trade Unions, Aliaksandr Jarašuk, who accuses the Danish trade union 3F of selective cooperation with Belarusian organisations and thus splitting the independent trade union movement. He claims that REP was involved in ‘dirty business’ and that he will not criticise the authorities for the criminal charges brought against REP.

A group of Indian citizens detained in Belarus. Photo: sb.by

How illegal migrants get to the European Union via Belarus. The number of migrants detained at the Belarusian border for illegal attempts to cross is on the rise, reports Respublika. The majority of migrants arrive in Russia and then travel to Belarus from there, taking advantage of the free customs agreement. They use GPS navigation systems to cross borders or pay smugglers who arrange their transportation to the EU. The profiles of such immigrants are varied, and include a significant numbers of student who ‘care not about knowledge, but a better life in the EU.’

Border control agencies have successfully identified the major routes for illegal migration and have the situation under control. Border control forces are also supported by voluntary, ‘patriotic’ border squads from the local population who identify and report suspicious travellers to border control agents.

Economy

Delayed harvest puts senior management in hot water. Despite the fact that agricultural enterprises have everything they need to operate, the latest reports reveal that 30% of them have violated technical regulations and will thus fall short of the normal harvest, reports Belarus Segodnia. Aliaksandr Lukashenka warned top executives not to attempt to use ‘bad climate’, data on infrastructural barriers, or other ‘systemic challenges’ as excuses.

He reprimanded senior executives for failing to fulfil their managerial responsibilities and mandated that the governors of three southern regions, Brest, Homiel, and Hrodna, reach the target harvesting goals – higher than in the previous years – ‘even at the cost of death’. Urging the senior executives to address poor management immediately, Lukashenka underlined the need to put to work ‘7-8% of non-functioning equipment nationally’ and ensure that the required financial and administrative support to achieve the harvesting goals is in place.

 

Top Chinese corporations consider the potential of the Great  Stone High Tech Park. A delegation of the heads of the largest Chinese corporations, led by the Chairman of Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of China’s State Council, visited Minsk to discuss investment projects. The delegations focused on the opportunities afforded by the Belarusian-Chinese Great Stone High-Tech Park.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka suggested that the delegation set up high-tech military enterprises at the park. The parties also agreed to establish an investment fund in order to attract residents to the park, as well as provide market research and training for park employees. The Belarusian president underlined that Belarus and China are not ‘ganging up’ against anyone and are not violating the stability of the region.

Картинки по запросу Сяо Яцин

Chairman of Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of China’s State Council Xiao Yaqing at the Belarusian Automotive Plant. Photo: Belaz.by

Belarus develops a strategy to deal with nuclear waste. The construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant is causing concerns regarding the future of nuclear waste management, writes Respublika. According to the National Nuclear Waste Management protocol, radioactive waste will be kept in special storage in Belarus, while used nuclear fuel, which is less radioactive, will be reprocessed and shipped to Russia, its country of origin, after 10 years.

Despite concerns regarding risks, the director of the Sosny Joint Institute for Power and Nuclear Research, Michail Žamžuraŭ, has stated that over the years Belarus has gained adequate experience in waste management and its practices are now up to international standards. Russian consulting companies are helping to develop their strategy, with the first disposal site expected to be designated by 2028.

Social policy

Lukashenka demands that the population of Belarus increase to 15 million. After listening to a government report on the demographic situation in the country, the Belarusian president stated that Belarus has the capacity to maintain a population of 20 million, and reaching 15 million should  be a future target. This will ensure the economic security and power of Belarus, reports Soyuznoye Veche.

Lukashenka has also ordered 300,000 citizens to get to work. ‘We have half a million people who do not work. 200,000 of them are families with many children, the disabled, or the ill, whom we can leave alone. But where are the remaining 300,000? We must force them to work’, Lukashenka said.




Plans to transform the old economy into a new IT-economy – digest of the Belarusian economy

According to Belstat, Belarus’s official statistical agency, in the first half of the year the Belarusian economy sped up, improving four months in a row.

Meanwhile, on 17 July 2017, the authorities announced plans to transform Belarus’s IT-sector into a full-fledged economic driver, aiming to create new jobs and increase tax revenues.

Finally, on 25 July 2017, the government announced a new modernization strategy for the manufacturing industry – the plan involves building a new tractor factory.

Economic growth: rising from the ashes

In the first half of the year, GDP growth was 1 per cent. By year-end however, GDP growth should reach 1.7 per cent according to the official forecast (see Figure 1). Industrial production has increased by 6.1 per cent and exports of goods by 23 per cent (in January-May).

As a result of these positive half-year economic figures, the government has started to think about new drivers of economic growth. However, according to the First Deputy Minister of Finance, Maxim Ermolovich, artificial stimulation of the economy (through the budget or monetary policy of the National Bank) should not be considered an economic policy tool.

The IT-economy: thinking about a prosperous future

On 17 July 2017, the authorities announced plans to transform Belarus’s IT-sector into a full-fledged economic driver. At present, approximately 30,000 IT-specialists work in the country, providing about $1bn of foreign exchange earnings annually. The average IT-specialist, with a salary of $1,500, delivers twice as much tax revenue as the average non-IT worker.

Although these plans are still only on paper, the authorities have already hammered out the main ideas of their new revolutionary presidential decree for the IT-sector.

The most significant changes have to do with the following issues: first, the decree opens up the Belarusian IT-market for new companies from high-tech industries (electronics, machine engineering, medicine, and biotechnology) and foreign organisations (for example, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple) which monetise IT-products through advertising and paid subscriptions.

Second, the decree creates the necessary legal basis for opening a centre for scientific and technological development of driverless cars in Belarus. What’s more, the decree would allow said cars to navigate on Belarusian roads.

Third, the decree aims to develop educational activities in the IT-field, such as teaching modern IT-subjects in English in universities and schools.

Fourth, the decree opens up the Belarusian market for international investment funds and venture capital organisations. In particular, it would liberalise economic legislation in the event of bankruptcy of an IT-project – this measure would limit investor obligations in terms of their invested money, but not their entire property.

Fifth, the decree intends to create favourable conditions not only for Belarusian IT-specialists, but also to poach talent from Ukrainian and Russian IT companies. For example, the decree simplifies the procedure for obtaining a residence permit for qualified foreign IT-specialists and introduces long-term visas for them.

Finally, the decree would introduce cryptocurrency into civil circulation (the consumer market).

Thus, the government plans to create new jobs and increase tax revenue. According to experts, state tax revenue from IT may increase by two or three times if the number of IT-specialists in the country triples.

Manufacturing: promoting a new tractor factory

On 25 July 2017, President Lukashenka decided the fate of the Belarusian tractor industry at a meeting: the government would organise the production of new technologically advanced types of heavy tractor. However, in recent years, this manufacturing sector has shown substantial decline.

Over the past five years, the production volume of tractors in Belarus has decreased by half, from 71,000 to 34,400 units (see Figure 2). The amount of people employed by MTZ (the Belarusian tractor producer) has shrunk by a quarter. Likewise, exports have also decreased significantly – from $1bn in 2012 to only $425m in 2016.

The decline in exports of Belarusian tractors (90% go to foreign markets) was mainly caused because the primary market (Russia) has in recent years experienced recession (due to reduced oil revenues). Therefore, subsidies for the purchase of agricultural machinery (including Belarusian) has also decreased.

In 2017, the export of Belarusian tractors finally began to grow. According to Belstat, in January-May tractor sales increased by 12.2 per cent in comparison with the same period last year, mainly due to improvements in the Russian market.

Thus, Russian subsidies for agriculture have reached $1bn, providing buyers a discount (from 15% to 20%) for agricultural machinery, including purchase of tractors assembled in Belarus.

According to the Director of the IPM Research Center, Alexander Chubrik, the Belarusian authorities plan to take advantage of the recovery of the Russian market to accelerate economic growth. One of their primary strategies will be establishing production of new tractor models.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashka, this project could cost around $300m-350m, financed by Chinese credit resources. However, the use of Chinese loans may not please Russian partners, who may rethink the subsidies for new tractor models.

Thus, Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Scientific and Industrial Association Georgy Grits has proposed joint production with Russia (which already has factories for such tractors). This would provide favourable conditions for the sales of the new Belarusian tractors on the Russian market.

All things considered, the positive external economic conditions have helped the authorities get back on a path of economic growth. However, the economy still lacks new drivers for economic growth which could more than double GDP growth. The new tractor factory remains a project for the Old Economy while the new IT-economy still seems a distant prospect.

Aleh Mazol, Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)

This article is a part of a joint project between Belarus Digest and Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)




Arms deals, Ostrogorski Forum videos, economic forecasts – Ostrogorski Centre digest

In July, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed arms deals between Belarus and Russia, developments in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations and the smear campaign against Svetlana Alexievich in the Russian media.

We also uploaded video recordings of the Ostrogorski Forum 2017 – a conference on Belarus-EU relations, security, and identity that took place in Minsk in June.

The Belarus Policy database was updated with several economic papers, as well as analyses on human rights and education.

Ostrogorski Forum 2017

On 19 June, the Ostrogorski Centre held its 2nd Ostrogorski Forum, entitled ‘Belarus in the new environment: challenges to foreign policy, security, and identity after 2014’. The conference featured widely-respected experts with both independent and pro-government views and was aimed at establishing a respectful dialogue. You can see videos of each of the three panels with names of the speakers below.

Panel 1. The normalisation of relations between Belarus and the EU after 2014: results and problems.

Speakers:

Andrej Liachovič, director of the Centre for Political Education

Sergey Kizima, Head of the Department of International Relations at the Academy of Public Administration

Moderator – Valier Karbalievič, expert at Strategy Analytical Centre

Panel 2. National security and defence of Belarus in conditions of economic crisis and rising international tension: achievements and failures.

Speakers:

Alexander Gelogaev, military commentator

Aliaksandr Špakoŭski, head of the Current Concept project

Dzianis Mieljancoŭ, senior analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies

Moderator – Aliaksandr Aliesin, military commentator

Panel 3. The official policy of identity after 2014: has ‘soft Belarusianisation’ been implemented?

Speakers:

Vadzim Mažejka, expert at the Liberal Club

Andrej Dyńko, chief editor of NN.BY portal

Piotra Piatroŭski, researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of NAS of Belarus

Moderator – Valier Bulhakaŭ, chief editor of ARCHE Journal

Analytics

Siarhei Bohdan analysed the recent arms deals between Belarus and Russia. At first glance, Russia seems to be arming Minsk. This fits with conjectures that the Kremlin is becoming increasingly hawkish and Minsk and Moscow are colluding to put their regional and Western opponents under pressure.

However, a more scrupulous analysis of such arms deals and the armaments the Belarusian army already possesses paints a different picture. Moscow refuses to bolster the steadily declining Belarusian military’s capacity to conduct offensive operations, including joint large-scale operations with Russia.

Alesia Rudnik discusses the smear campaign initiated against Svetlana Alexievich in the Russian media. The sharp reaction from Russian media outlets and politicians can be explained by the fact that many of her statements relate to ‘sore points’ of Russian politics: the war in Ukraine and Russia’s role in it, the promotion of the concept of the ‘Russian World’, and confrontation with the West.

Alexievich, who writes in Russian, has made statements that completely contradict official Russian propaganda. Many public figures in Russia perceive this as a threat or an attempt to change Russian public opinion on issues important to the Putin regime.

According to Igar Gubarevich’s article, Lukashenka’s recent visit to Kyiv demonstrates that Lukashenka and Poroshenko have developed a close personal rapport. The two countries’ governments share an interest in stronger economic ties; they also have a fairly good understanding of how to build them. Belarus will never willingly jeopardise Ukraine’s security. In return, Ukraine understands that it cannot realistically expect more than neutrality from Belarus in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Despite the fact that they belong to opposing geopolitical alliances, Belarus and Ukraine still need each other to withstand Russia’s pressure. Their close bilateral cooperation will be instrumental in making both countries stronger.

Comments in the media

On the Political Mirror programme on Polish radio, Ostrogorski Centre analyst Ryhor Astapenia discussed whether Minsk managed to gain the sympathy of western states, the possibility of the Belarusian military joining international peacekeeping missions, and how arrests of top officials and businessmen help improve the economic situation in Belarus.

On Polish radio, Igar Gubarevich discussed the state of Belarusian-Moldovan relations. Despite recent setbacks in bilateral trade, Moldova remains an important economic partner for Belarus in the post-Soviet space. Unlike Russia, Belarus has no objection to the geopolitical orientation of Moldova towards Europe. On the contrary, Minsk seeks to use this factor to its own advantage.

On Radio Liberty, Siarhei Bohdan discussed the political implications of the new brand of Lidskaje beer, which features a map of the Belarusian Popular Republic. According to Siarhei, it creates a destructive political myth and drives the debate on the BPR project into a populist and revisionist direction.

Belarus Policy

The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:

Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by emailing us.

The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian StudiesBelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.




Are Relations With Europe Back to Normal? – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest

The Belarusian government’s crackdown on peaceful protests in early spring failed to markedly affect its contacts with the West.

In June-July, the intensity of Belarus’s diplomatic dialogue with Europe was probably at its highest point in the last several years. However, Western leaders are still in no hurry to negotiate directly with President Lukashenka.

The authorities took advantage of the high-level meetings of the CEI and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk to promote their vision of Belarus as a responsible international player and regional mediator. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will discourage the West from focusing on issues of democracy.

Exploiting international forums

Belarusian diplomats have been actively exploiting the country’s rotating presidency in certain multilateral organisations, as well as Minsk’s potential status as a venue for international events, to boost Belarus’s image abroad and revamp bilateral ties.

Belarus has been doing its best to get the most out of its presidency in the Central European Initiative in 2017. This attitude stands in a stark contrast to its earlier apathy towards the activities of this loosely structured discussion club.

On 8 June, Minsk hosted a high-level meeting entitled ‘Promoting Connectivity in the CEI Region: Bridging the Gap between Europe and Asia’. The CEI participant countries, along with China and EAEU member states, focused on transport and logistics in correlation with the Silk Road initiative.

On 22 June, senior diplomats from the CEI countries gathered in Minsk for their annual meeting. Only six countries out of eighteen were represented by their foreign ministers. The final communiqué dealt mostly with the European aspirations of certain Western Balkan states and some Eastern Partnership countries. Alexander Lukashenka, who did not miss the opportunity to meet with top foreign diplomats, underscored the importance of ‘integration of integrations’, his pet idea.

On 5-9 July, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held its annual session in Minsk. The Belarusian authorities took this opportunity to interpret the choice of Minsk as a confirmation of Belarus’s status as a ‘pole of stability’ in the region. They also used it to promote Lukashenka’s idea of a ‘Helsinki-2 process’.

Belarusian diplomats managed to circumvent any reference to the human rights situation in Belarus in the final declaration of the session. However, four of six Belarusian MPs voted in favour of the Minsk Declaration, which also condemned Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. The Belarusian foreign ministry did not fail to present this staged voting as proof of pluralism in the Belarusian parliament.

Reaching out to the developing world

The Belarusian authorities are seeking to diminish the country’s economic dependence on Russia by boosting Belarus’s trade with the so called ‘Distant Arc’ countries.

On 6-7 June, Minsk hosted a new forum called ‘Belarus and Africa: New Frontiers’ with participation of over seventy delegates from about twenty African countries. So far, Africa remains the least cultivated market for Belarusian exporters and manufacturers.

Lukashenka, speaking as an observer at the Astana summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on 9 June, sought to persuade members of the organisation to strengthen the economic dimension of its activities, claiming that this would eventually help combat terrorism.

On 29 June, Lukashenka received his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang in Minsk. Belarus and Vietnam will seek to increase their turnover fourfold, from $121m in 2016 to half a billion in a few years’ time. Alongside more traditional Belarusian exports to developing countries, several innovative Belarusian high-tech companies are seeking to localise the assembly of their products in Vietnam.

On 26-28 June, Georges Rebelo Pinto Chicoti, the Angolan minister for external relations, visited Belarus. The two countries agreed to establish a joint trade commission and explore the viability of setting up knock-down assembly of Belarusian tractors in Angola.

In June and July, Belarus also held political and economic consultations on the deputy foreign minister level with Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, India, Laos, and Vietnam.

Maintaining intensive dialogue with Europe

Alexander Lukashenka recently ordered his diplomats to ‘literally sink [their] teeth into the European market’. Indeed, economic issues prevailed on the agenda of the foreign ministry’s senior officials as they met with their EU counterparts.

On 13-14 June, foreign minister Vladimir Makei visited Madrid. Belarus and Spain agreed to establish a joint commission on economic and industrial cooperation. The commission will first meet this autumn in Minsk.

From Madrid, Belarus's top diplomat went to Prague on 15-16 June, where he held talks with his Czech counterpart Lubomír Zaorálek and met with Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

The turnover between the two countries has been steadily falling since 2014. Speaking to media after the first ever official visit of a Belarusian foreign minister to Czechia, Makei expressed his hope that their ‘theoretical agreement will turn into concrete projects’ in bilateral relations.

On 19 June, Makei attended the annual Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in Luxembourg, where he met with several top European and EU-level diplomats. There, he derided Lithuania’s attempts to involve multilateral institutions in its bilateral problems with Belarus regarding the construction of the Astraviec NPP near their joint border.

On 21-22 June, the foreign ministers of Hungary and Slovakia, Peter Szijjarto and Miroslav Lajcak, visited Minsk. Both diplomats combined their visits with their participation in the annual meeting of the CEI foreign ministers.

Makei called Szijjarto and Lajcak his friends. Indeed, Budapest and Bratislava have maintained constant dialogue with Minsk ever since the normalisation of relations with the EU. Both countries have also been important economic partners for Belarus. However, although the Belarusian government has managed to reverse the short-lived decrease in its trade with Hungary, the turnover with Slovakia has remained in a steady free-fall since 2012 – down by 40%.

On 5 July, Lukashenka received Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, who visited Minsk as Chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lukashenka and Kurz also discussed the bilateral agenda. Austria, which has important economic interests in Belarus, is often seen as one of the regime’s strongest advocates in Europe.

On 18-20 July, Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics paid a working visit to Belarus. The two countries have maintained an annual exchange of foreign minister visits since 2013; they seek to expand ties in all areas of cooperation. Recently, Minsk and Riga secured the right to host the Ice Hockey World Championship jointly in 2021.

In recent weeks, Belarus also held political and economic consultations on the deputy foreign minister level with Austria, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Minsk hosted business delegations from Germany and Switzerland. On 6 July, President Lukashenka received a delegation of the United States Congress.

Belarusian diplomats have managed to restore the dynamics and climate of the country’s ties with Europe to the level they enjoyed prior to the Belarusian authorities’ recent crackdown on dissent. However, the full normalisation of relations with the West will require more than simply restraining from persecuting the opposition or promoting Belarus as a ‘donor of security’. President Lukashenka’s legitimacy in European capitals should be the foundation of the next stage in relations.




Alexievich’s third try, think tanks’ life, the Central European Initiative – digest of Belarusian analytics

CET releases analysis of the sector of Belarusian human rights organisations. Arseni Sivitsky dissects reasons for Belarus’ heavy rearmament with Russian help. Grigory Ioffe analyzes Svetlana Aleksievich’s public speaking. Economist Irina Tochitskaya: Belarus falls in a slow growth trap. Belarus in Focus: Minsk steps back to international and public pressure over the White Legion case. 

Natalia Ryabova sums up key trends for Belarusian independent think tanks. Liberal Club presents a study on how to stimulate the development of philanthropy and CSR in Belarus. Economist Dmitri Kruk believes that Belarus is ten years behind without reforms.

Comfortable Trap With a View to Growth – The orientation to the Russian market costs much for the Belarusian economy and the population. Over the past 18 years, the share of Belarusian producers in world exports has been steadily declining. Irina Tochitskaya, IPM Research Center, states that the country is now trapped in 'slow growth'. Belarus should decide: to get out of it or to put up with the role of an outsider.

Minsk Steps Back to International And Public Pressure Over White Legion Case – Belarus in Focus experts consider that in the White Legion case is the Belarusian authorities’ demonstration of greater adaptability and reduction of the repression-liberalization cycle in the domestic policy in order to retain positive trend in relations with the EU. Nevertheless, the White Legion case has not been closed yet.

Think Tanks' Life Will Not Become Easier in 2017 – Natalia Ryabova, SYMPA/BIPART director highlights the key trends emerged in 2016 for the Belarusian independent think tanks: cooperation with state institutions and the media as well as the specialization. In the short term, the financial conditions of most think tanks may deteriorate due to a reduction in donor funding, from which they remain highly dependent.

How to Stimulate the Development of Philanthropy and CSR in Belarus. Business View – The Liberal Club presents a study based on a survey of 12 Belarusian business companies. One of the key findings is that for the last 5 years the practice of philanthropy/CSR in Belarus has become broader and more systematic. At the same time, the Belarusian stakeholders still do not have a single approach to the key definitions of sponsorship and CSR.

Belarus and the Central European Initiative: Reading Beyond the Headlines – Yauheni Preiherman analyzes results of the recent foreign ministers’ meeting of the Central European Initiative in Minsk Belarus actively promoted itself as neutral ground for international conflict resolution negotiations. Such a neutrality-oriented identity helps the country hedge against the possibility of being dragged into political and military confrontation against its will.

Belarusian Human Rights Defenders’ View On Human Rights Activity And Questions Of Cooperation Between Belarusian Human Rights Organizations – This is a new research of the Center for European Transformation (CET) on Belarusian human rights organizations sector. One of the findings is that despite the general adverse environment for CSOs, human rights organizations and initiatives keep being rather active and their number continues to increase: from 17 organizations in 2010 to 25 in 2013.

Belarus Takes the Last Place On Number of NGOs in the Eastern Partnership – ThinkTanks.by overviews a new CET study on the Belarus' civil society. In comparison with other EaP countries, Belarus has the least number of NGOs: around 3,000 NGOs in total, i.е. 32 organizations per 100 thousand population. For example, in Armenia, there are 4,000 NGOs, while its population is almost three times less than in Belarus.

Why Belarus Heavily Rearmed With Russian Help? – Minsk has decided to engage in the rearmament of the Belarusian army, including the purchase of fighters and new missile systems. According to Arseni Sivitsky, Belarus is intensifying the process of upgrading its armed forces, Belarus strive to maintain a monopoly on military sovereignty and prevent the emergence of Russian military bases on its territory.

Svetlana Alexievich’s Third Try – Grigory Ioffe overviews a speech of Svetlana Alexievich, the Nobel Prize laureate in literature, that she gave in Brussels, at the European People’s Party Group’s hearing. Unlike her two previous attempts at public speaking in recent months, this one was not scandalous. However, the author believes that Alexievich appears too lonely and too muddled in her rhetoric to become a consolidating figure.

REFORMS REVIEW

Moody's expects Belarus’ real GDP to contract for a third consecutive year in 2017, although at a much reduced pace thanks to the renewed output and exports of refined oil products and the economic recovery in Russia, which is Belarus' main trading partner.

Macroeconomic Situation: Locked In Recession. Dmitry Kruk, for Belarusian Yearbook, reviews the Belarusian economy in 2016. Namely, the last year was the second consecutive year of economic recession. Non-competitiveness of Belarusian producers was the main reason for the decline. The economic authorities refrained from any extensive institutional changes.

Average wage of $500 is real by 2018. According to Alexander Chubrik, IPM Research Center, Belarus expects slow economic growth because of the Russian economy. After the fall in 2015, in 2016, both Russia and Belarus have started to increase their GDP. In 2018, Belarus will increase oil imports from Russia, Belarus’ GDP in dollars will increase, and salary will reach $500.

Belarus suspends talks with the IMF about a future loan program. The reason is that the International Monetary Fund, IMF and the government of Belarus have disagreements over the reform of the public sector. According to the Finance Minister of Belarus, future plans may return because the currency debt shows steady growth.

Belarusians understand that reforms are needed, but they do not want to lose their salaries. Economist Katerina Bornukova in a popular format tells what holds back officials and whether the Belarusians themselves are ready for changes.

It is likely that all 10 years – from 2010 to 2020 – will be lost. Dmitri Kruk, BEROC, states that the main trend in 2016 has become an addiction to the crisis and recession. In the absence of economic reforms, many of the sounding promises will lead to nothing.

Eurobonds: debt hole or the foundation of development? Belarus has entered the international capital market to obtain a loan in the form of Eurobonds. Economist Anton Boltochko states the importance of reforms that would contribute to the elimination of the causes of the budget deficit. If not, additional funds will be needed to return the earlier loans.

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.




Anti-corruption party, ECLAB enrolment, White Legion released, Social Business Forum – Belarus civil society digest

SYMPA/BIPART invite to an anti-corruption party. ECLAB opens student enrolment for the 2017-2018 academic year. First Social Business Forum takes place in Belarus.

Civil Society Parallel Forum is held in Minsk ahead of the 26 annual OSCE PA session. Human rights defender becomes member of the government’s penitentiary system monitoring commission.

New gender project helps Belarusian women tell their stories. All defendants in the White Legion case are released. Ministry of Economy agrees with Perspektyva’s proposals.

This and more in the new edition of the Belarus civil society digest.

Education and research

SYMPA/BIPART invites to an anti-corruption party. The thematic event is held on 10 July in Minsk. The agenda includes a presentation of the Transparent Public Procurement Rating and the place of Belarus in it; an open lecture on the monitoring public procurement in Hungary, and a study on electronic public procurement. The entrance to the event is free.

ECLAB opens accepting students for 2017-2018 academic year. European College of Liberal Arts in Belarus (ECLAB) is an informal educational institution. The college suggests the courses on public history, mass culture and media, contemporary art and theatre, etc. For three years of work, the college has over 200 graduates and held over 30 public events and exhibition projects.

Belarus In the Trap of Slow Growth: Get Out or Settle Down? seminar will take place on 30 June in Minsk. Organised by the IPM Research Centre and the Ministry of Economy, the seminar will present the results of studies on the situation of vulnerable groups in the recession period, a new concept of regional development, IPM’s macroeconomic forecast, etc. The seminar is held under the Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF.

Study on the assessment of services for people with intellectual/mental disabilities in local communities was presented on 28 June in Minsk. The study was carried out by the Prospects for Mental Health (Lithuania) in cooperation with the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Belarus). The study analyses the existing community services and resources related to de-institutionalisation at the local level.

Minsk will host a conference on academic freedom in Belarus. The conference will take place on 26 June and discuss the situation with violations of academic freedom in Belarus, such as the expulsion of from universities for civic activities, the imposition of the state ideology, etc. The organisers are Human Rights Centre Viasna, Association of Belarusian Students (ZBS) and Libereco-Partnership for Human Right.

Summer school Close Power invites participants to Białystok to get acquainted with the system of the local government of Poland and Belarus. Organised by the For Freedom movement, the school includes meetings with leadership representatives, sessions about the mechanisms of decision-making at the local level, advocacy campaigns, etc.

Local and green activism

City Show's Grand Finale. This week the City project has released the last episode. In total, 8 video episodes tell how 20 activists from 13 Belarusian cities fight for the prize fund, meeting the urban challenges and implementing their ideas in communities. The Grand Prix, a study trip to Brazil, went to the urban artist Bazinato who implements civic activism through art.

V Forum of Environmental CSOs will take place on 21-23 July near Minsk. The key theme of the 2017 Forum is Public engagement. Representatives of eco-friendly organisations and initiatives are invited to participate. The Forum will raise such topics as partnership ethics, climate change, renewable energy, etc. The organisers are Green Network, EcoDom, Bahna CSO and others.

Pain points of Minsk. 34mag.net magazine has released a list of locations in Minsk that are under threat of destruction and need protection from urban activists. The list includes Asmaloŭka district and its active locals; Baraŭliany, where the authorities plan to cut down five hectares of forest and others.

Susedzi 2017 bike marathon. The 7th International Amateur Bike Marathon Susedzi 2017 / Neighbors will be held on 15 July, at the Augustów Canal, Hrodna region. Anyone can participate in the bike marathon if he/she has a bicycle and a helmet. Gender, age, and cycling experience do not matter. The organiser is VelaHrodna local CSO.

Human rights

Human rights defender enters the commission on the penitentiary system. This is a Chairperson of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Alieh Hulak. The Republican Public Monitoring Commission at the Ministry of Justice monitors compliance with the rights of convicts by institutions that carry out punishment and implement social projects aimed at the re-socialisation and adaptation of convicts.

All defendants released in White Legion case. This week the remaining 14 people were released on recognisance in the so-called White Legion case; they have been charged with forming an illegal armed group, criminal art. 287. It was known about 31 people who were detained on the eve of the 25 March Freedom Day protest rallies. In total, they spent behind bars 1,880 days.

New gender visual project. A group of individuals has launched a visual project in Facebook allowing to Belarusian women to tell about themselves who they are, and not as they are expected to be; hashtag #такаякакесть375 (as I am). A series contains 19 stories of women, who wanted to share their looks, relationships with their breasts and bodies with the world.

Other

Civil Society Parallel Forum in Minsk. On 4 July, ahead of the 26th annual session of the OSCE PA, civil society held the parallel forum in Minsk, for the first time in the recent 13 years. The forum focused on international mechanisms in the sphere of human rights in Post-Soviet countries, the human rights situation and problems of civil society. The forum’s resolution is available.

First Belarusian Social Business Forum. On 28 June, on the International Day of Social Business, Minsk hosted the First Belarusian Social Business Forum. Organised by a number of CSOs, the day was packed with events, including speeches from representatives of Belarusian social businesses, presentations from foreign guests, informal networking, and the Social Business Alley of over 20 Belarusian social companies.

Ministry of Economy met CSO proposals. The officials agreed with a suggestion of the Perspektiva CSO that advocates the interests of small vendors. In particular, individual entrepreneurs will pay fees to the Social Protection Fund on a voluntary basis (now it's mandatory). The related draft of the presidential decree is being prepared.

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.




Celebrating Kupallie, a pagan midsummer holiday – Belarus photo digest

Kupallie (Midsummer) is an ancient pagan festival which marks the summer solstice – the longest day and shortest night. This holiday is one of the four most important in the pagan calendar.

When the Slavs were converted to Christianity, the Church designated the day as the feast of John the Baptist in order to destroy the holiday’s pagan roots. However, nearly 1,000 years of pressure from the Church were not able to completely wipe out the celebration's pagan connotations.

When Belarus switched to the Gregorian calendar, the Church began to celebrate the holiday on 6 July, which distorted the holy day’s compliance with astronomical phenomena.

Nowadays, Belarusians celebrate the holiday in two ways, both of which we present here. We will showcase the way in which enthusiasts celebrate, at night and following old traditions, and the way in which governmental Culture Centres mark the occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna Region, he received a history degree from the Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




Ostrogorski Academy, Ostrogorski Forum 2017, brain-drain, religiosity – Ostrogorski Centre digest

This June the Ostrogorski Centre launched the Ostrogorski Academy – a nonprofit educational project dedicated to disseminating knowledge of the humanities. The academy is the first Belarusian entirely online 'university’, based on a series of lectures, tests, podcasts on important and engaging topics.

Ostrogorski Centre analysts discussed how Belarus's neighbours doubt its sovereignty, brain drain, and religiosity in the country.

The Centre also held in Minsk the Ostrogorski Forum 2017, which focused on foreign policy, security, and identity.

Ostrogorski Academy

On 19 June, the Ostrogorski Centre officially launched the Ostrogorski Academy – a nonprofit educational project dedicated to disseminating knowledge of the humanities. The academy is the first entirely online educational platform, based on a series of lectures on important and engaging topics. Each lecture series is read by well-known Belarusian academics and analysts based both abroad and in Belarus; courses also feature graphic illustrations, transcripts of lectures, e-books, podcasts, and links to additional sources of information.

Ostrogorski Forum 2017

On 19 June, the Ostrogorski Centre held its 2nd Ostrogorski Forum, which was entitled 'Belarus in the new environment: challenges to foreign policy, security, and identity after 2014'. The event and in particular remarks made by the Ukraine's Ambassador to Belarus were widely covered in the Belarusian media, including TUT.by, zautra.by, thinktanks.by, Polish radio, and Radio Liberty. You can see videos from the conference below.

Analytics

Siarhei Bohdan showed that despite all of Minsk's efforts to present itself as a neutral country, some of its neighbours doubt not only its neutrality but even its sovereignty and commitment to peace. Minsk's efforts have failed to please at least some of its non-Russian neighbours, which would like to see Belarus distance itself more clearly from Moscow. The Belarusian government, however, can hardly pursue a policy other than a very cautious and incremental build-up of neutrality if it wants to survive as an independent state.

Alesia Rudnik analysed brain-drain trends in Belarus. According to official statistics, Belarus is among the few countries in the Post-Soviet region with more people coming to the country than leaving. Nevertheless, sociologists point to a discrepancy between official statistics and reality. The economic crisis, political pressure, and stagnation of education are just several reasons Belarusians are leaving the country, while the authorities do little to influence Belarusians to stay put.

Paula Borowska discussed a recent study on religiosity in Central and Eastern Europe by the Pew Research Centre with a focus on Belarus. According to the study, the overwhelming majority of Belarusians believe in God and affiliate themselves with specific religious organisations. Nevertheless, the number of practising believers who regularly engage in religious activities is far smaller. Unexpectedly, Belarusian Protestants, not covered in the study, might be the de facto leaders on the ground.

Comments of analysts in the media

On Polish Radio, Siarhei Bohdan argued that Belarus is moving away from its old security doctrine which ties it exclusively to the union with Russia. The Belarusian government is developing a more balanced foreign policy by creating a variety of partnerships in the area of security. It respects the interests of Russia while attempting to strengthen cooperation with the West.

On Radio Liberty, Yaraslau Kryvoi discussed how Belarus's presidency of the Central European Initiative could help the country break with its international isolation. Its presidency will garner the attention of the European community, help balance its foreign policy, and boost regional cooperation.

Also on Radio Liberty, Yaraslau Kryvoi discussed the results of snap elections in the UK and how they could affect London’s negotiations with the European Union on Brexit.

Siarhei Bohdan commented for thinktanks.by on the blockade of Qatar by a Saudi-led Arab coalition. The ultimate goal of the blockade is to put pressure on Iran, which aims to restore the military part of its nuclear programme. Belarus, which has been actively cooperating with Qatar, is losing an opportunity in the region due to the conflict.

Ryhor Astapenia wrote an article for the Polish magazine Kontakt discussing the fall in support for Aliaksandr Lukashenka in Belarusian society.

On Polish Radio, Vadzim Smok discussed a recent series of arrests of important Belarusian businessmen. In Belarus, they can not freely do business without informal arrangements with the country's leadership. According to the official version, the businessmen were tried for tax evasion, but the actual cause may also be a conflict in the system of informal relations with the authorities.

Siarhei Bohdan commented to Deutsche Welle on the recent oil agreements between Belarus and Ukraine. The Kremlin sees all attempts of its clients to diversify oil supplies in non-economic categories of confrontation – you are either with or against Russia. At the same time, the transition to a new structure of oil supplies from Iran and Azerbaijan via Odessa to Brody and Mazyr, and from there on to Eastern Europe, could change the geopolitical map of the entire Eastern European region.

On Polish Radio, Alesia Rudnik discussed alcohol policy in Belarus. The country continues to occupy top positions in the WHO's world alcohol consumption ranking. What's more, these statistics do not take into account illegal alcohol stock. Although the state claims to be working on some anti-alcohol policies, this seems to be in word only, and alcohol remains extremely affordable.

Belarus profile

The BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following people: Jury Karajeŭ, Alieh Chusajenaŭ, Iryna Abieĺskaja, Mikalaj Lukashenka, Michail Zacharaŭ, Paviel Cichanaŭ, Alieh Rummo, Jury Hurski, Piotr Kraŭčanka, Aliaksandr Dziamidaŭ.

We have also updated the profiles of Siarhiej Pisaryk, Aliaksandr Kosiniec, Natallia Nikandrava, Siarhiej Ciacieryn, Siamion Šapira, Fiodar Poŭny, Anatol Kupryjanaŭ, Viktar Marcinovič, Aliaksandr Miažujeŭ, Liudmila Michalkova, Anatol Rusiecki, Marjana Ščotkina, Mikalaj Samasiejka, Siarhiej Michalok, Georgy Ponomarev.

Belarus policy

The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:

Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by emailing us.

The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.




Belarus-Russia-EU triangle, Belarusian Yearbook 2016, Population 50+, corruption survey – digest of Belarusian analytics

Eugene Rumor, Carnegie Endowment, argues that post-2014 Belarus is a less reliable satellite for Russia and the West should calibrate its policy accordingly. Grigory Ioffe breaks down recent harsh statements by Dalia Grybauskaitė and Svetlana Aleksievich.

OSW: energy dispute between Minsk and Moscow is not completely resolved. Yauheni Preiherman believes that Belarus’ foreign policy cannot be grasped by the classic bandwagoning-balancing dichotomy.

IPM fresh survey: one third of Belarusian private businesses consider corruption widespread. CET presents an analytical overview that summarises data of sociological and sectoral studies of 2014-2017 related to the Belarusian CSOs.

This and more in the new edition of the digest of Belarusian analytics

EU-Belarus relations

Words matter: Belarus and its Western neighbors – Grigory Ioffe analyses recent harsh public statements made by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksievich. The author concludes that the government in Minsk has a better understanding than some of its Western neighbours that ongoing frustrations and regional grievances are perpetual nuisances in the overall European tug of war between the major global centres of power.

EU should put pressure on Belarus nuclear project – EUobserver argues that the Astraviec Nuclear Power Plant, built and financed by Russia, disregards international safety standards as it is so close to the population centre. Moreover, poor safety has already led to at least six incidents and several deaths at the construction site.

Toward a new European Union strategy for Belarus – Complications have tensed the relationship between the EU and Belarus, with some arguing for continued engagement with the autocratic regime of Alexander Lukashenka, and others calling for a return to isolation and excluding Belarus from the Eastern Partnership. E-International Relations argue that clarity about the end goal is critical for framing EU strategy towards the country.

Belarus-Russia

Belarus’s asymmetric relations with Russia: the case of strategic hedging? – In his paper, Yauheni Preiherman argues that Belarus’ foreign policy cannot be grasped by the classic bandwagoning-balancing dichotomy. Under the conditions of deeply embedded geostrategic asymmetries and with a view to bypassing structural restrictions of its foreign policy, Belarus pursues strategic hedging, in particular in its relations with Russia.

Case of Amriev: Minsk has discredited itself in eyes of international community – Belarus in Focus experts, following the Murad Amriev extradition, note that Belarusian authorities are attempting to demonstrate to the Kremlin their reliability as a partner in sensitive issues. However, what seems quite reasonable in Minsk, may negatively affect the country’s reputation in the outer world.

Belarus: with friends like these… – Carnegie Endowment notes that since the breakdown of the post-Cold War security order and the rise in tensions between NATO and Russia, Belarus has occupied a prominent place as the critical territory between Russia and NATO. Although Russia has a strong influence in the region, its grip is less certain than often assumed.

The story that never ends. New stages in the energy dispute between Russia and Belarus – According to OSW experts, over the past few years, the situation in the area of energy cooperation of Russia and Belarus has become strained; Russia desires to optimise on their support for Belarus and the escalating recession in Belarus has forced them to apply for even more subsidies.

Domestic politics

Belarusian Yearbook 2016 – This is an annual comprehensive analysis of the key developments and current status of the main sectors of the state and society in 2016. Three processes determined the political agenda last year – the presidential election, normalisation of Belarus’s relations with the West, and the economic recession. The presentation of the Yearbook was held in Minsk, on 23 June.

Population 50+ in Belarus: the experience of using the instruments of social harmonisation in the EU The working paper analyses the demographic situation in Belarus and assesses the risks for the 50+ group to fall into the poverty line, become unemployed and the influence of age on alcohol consumption

Belarus’s quest for self-identity aided by outside actors – Grigory Ioffe discusses the events that prove that a clear identity for Belarus as a nation is on its way to realisation. The Tell the Truth campaign was officially registered after 7 attempts. A debate over the Belarusian language has resumed. Lastly, Belarus came under renewed attacks by voices in both Russia and the West, but Belarus was able to perceive themselves as a unique and confident nation.

Lukashenka reformed the political system so that nothing changes. Journalist Paŭliuk Bykoŭski argues that modernisation of the Belarusian political system is not present, although some micro-movements may be seen. There is a debate over whether or not any new political systems will arise.

Andrej Vardamacki: media situation may change within a month – In mid-May, the Belarusian Analytical Workshop presented the results of the latest national poll. Andrej Vardamacki tells Thinktanks.by what is behind a sensational surge of confidence to non-state media (from 19.4% in February to 30.4% in April), explains what topics journalists should cover and what geopolitical infantilism is.

How to reform Belarus' regions. IdeaBy expert community has launched a landing to cover a topic dedicated to the situation in the Belarus' regions. The website collects actual data and analytics on the topic.

A third of the businessmen surveyed consider corruption widespread in Belarus. The IPM Research Center commissioned a survey devoted to the state of the business climate in the country. Among over 400 enterprises interviewed, 22.6% of the respondents indicated widespread corruption in the country and 8.1% – pervasive corruption.

Belarus Policy

Belarus’ civil society: current status and conditions of development An analytical overview that summarises data of sociological and sectoral studies of 2014-2017 related to the Belarusian CSOs 

Belarus’ civil society: current status and conditions of development – Centre for European Transformation (CET) presents an analytical overview that summarises data of sociological and sectoral studies of 2014-2017 related to the Belarusian CSOs. The study covers such issues as statistics of CSOs, areas of activity, geographical distribution, public participation, as well as certain political, legal and financial conditions.

Population 50+ in Belarus: the experience of using the instruments of social harmonisation in the EU – The first part of the working paper describes the demographic changes and challenges in the world, sets basic indicators reflecting ageing of the population, as well as it reviews relevant literature available for Belarus. The second part analyses the demographic situation in Belarus and assesses the risks for the 50+ group to fall into the poverty line, become unemployed and the influence of age on alcohol consumption.

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.




Belarus extracts its own oil – Belarus photo digest

Many in Belarus took the recent discovery of new oil fields in the country as a joke: president Alexander Lukashenka had demanded earlier that the government start searching for its own black gold. According to experts, however, these deposits were already known.

It was only the complexity of extraction that had prevented the mining of these deposits before. However, officials now claim that Belarusian oil costs five times less than Russian oil, and extraction will be profitable even with world oil prices at $20 per barrel.

Belarus extracts around 1.6m tonnes of oil on its territory annually. This is a tiny amount compared to world oil production leaders. Russia, for example, produces roughly the same amount daily. The capacities of Belarusian refineries, meanwhile, require an additional 24m tonnes per year, which the country traditionally buys from Russia.

Processing Russian oil and the export of oil products has guaranteed economic stability for Lukashenka for almost two decades. Oil production exports make up around one third of Belarus’s exports, which makes the country vulnerable to global market fluctuations.

However, the Putin era brought regular oil and gas tensions, which forced Belarus to seek alternative supplies. Belarus even resorted to importing oil from Azerbaijan and Venezuela in 2010-2011 and 2016, as well as re-examining its own reserves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna Region, he received a history degree from the Belarusian State Pedagogical University.