Analytical Paper: the state of distance education in Belarus: problems and perspectives

In Soviet times, extramural education was extremely popular in Belarus – the Soviet Union took pride in having created a system for obtaining almost all educational degrees remotely. It was the first in the world to do so.

Extramural education still remains popular, although its utilisation is less wide-spread than in neighbouring countries. Promoting distance education in Belarus would make education more accessible to broader circles of society, including those who are constrained by physical or economic factors.

The established history of extramural education, good technical equipment at universities, and the wide-spread use of high-speed Internet mean that Belarus already possesses a good basis for the development of a high quality system of distance education.

In order to create a high-quality system of distance education in Belarus, it is necessary to create a corresponding legislative base, to organise additional trainings for specialists in the sphere of education, and to expand the cooperation between universities and the companies that work in the high tech sector

Development of distance education in Belarus

After the October Revolution in 1917, Soviet authorities drastically improved the literacy rate in the USSR. Literacy grew from 56% in 1916 to 99% in the early 1970s. In addition to the compulsory eight years of education, extramural education enjoyed large-scale development, as this allowed the working masses to combine education with work.

This lofty aspiration to make higher education accessible has been preserved in Belarus, which occupies a relatively high position on the Human Development Index in comparison with other CIS countries. Thus, according to data from 2014, about 90% of the population possesses secondary or higher education.

According to the Legatum Prosperity Index 2016, Belarus surpasses Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and certain other European Union countries with regards to access to education, quality of education, and human potential. However, education in Belarus still suffers from a number of significant problems, as universities remain strictly regulated and insufficiently integrated into the common European space.

Moreover, the quality of available education often fails to meet the requirements of the labour market, especially when it comes to the humanities and social sciences. Belarus has retained a system of extramural education in which students attend classes once every few months to sit exams.

At present, 61% of Belarusian students are enrolled in extramural education, 39.1% of which are studying distantly. However, the classic concept of distance education remains closely linked to active use of technology. Students enrolled in extramural education in Belarus do not use interactive methods of learning, nor do they have the benefit of a flexible schedule or opportunities to create an individual educational programme.

Due to these factors, extramural education in Belarus does not qualify as distance education. According to information from the International Council on Distance Education, 14% of students in the world obtain their education distantly. Most universities and other educational institutions around the world, including in countries which neighbour Belarus, offer distance learning which often does not require a prior educational background.

Conference panel on distance education in Belarus (December 2016, mostly in English)

 

Recommendations on development of distance education in Belarus

The analytical paper suggests that in order to develop a high-quality system of education in Belarus, it is necessary to take the following steps:

Develop a normative base

Despite nominal references in the Code on Education, the system of distance education in Belarus requires special regulation and stimulation. Legislation on education should include recommendations on better organising distance learning in universities, and a description of a monitoring system. It is important that the legislation addresses the issue of financing distance education. Moreover, the structure of the distance education system (from vocational to higher education) should be delineated.

Expert and knowledge exchange

​Belarus’s recent accession to the Bologna Process will lead to the growth of contacts and exchange experiences in the sphere of education. In order to fully realise implementation of distance education, Belarus needs to train specialists in developing a distance education strategy for universities. This should take the specific features of each educational establishment and region into account. It is possible to achieve this by promoting expert assistance in the form of educational visits, exchanges, and recommendations.

Establish a centre for distance education

The relevant authorities need to follow the best practices of other countries and establish a specially designated centre which would coordinate and facilitate the development of distance education in Belarus and offer trainings for education professionals.

Rooting distance education

It is necessary to stimulate investments in the sphere of education and secure broader participation of the private sector. For the distance education system to function effectively, preparedness and support from the administrations of higher education establishments is crucial. Administrations must be willing to reform and introduce new forms of learning. There is also a need for teachers and other employees of higher education establishments to learn how to communicate and educate using technology.




Analytical paper: Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area

In 2015 Belarus joined the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and committed to putting a Roadmap for higher education reform into effect by 2018.

The implementation of the Roadmap is running behind schedule, which poses a threat to fulfilment of Belarus' obligations by the due date.

This paper released by the Ostrogorski Centre today analyses the main challenges to implementation of the Roadmap in Belarus; it also provides recommendation which could help to do it on time and benefit a wider range of stakeholders.

Belarus as a new member of the European Higher Education Area

At a conference of 47 EHEA Ministers of Education (May 14-15, 2015, Yerevan) Belarus took on commitments to implement a Roadmap for higher education reform. It is expected that the harmonisation of Belarusian and European educational standards will ensure higher quality education, more opportunities for studying and employment, deeper integration in the European and global educational area, and inclusion of different social groups, including disadvantaged communities, in education.

The programme of higher education reform in Belarus stipulates a mechanism of international support and consultation for the implementation of the Roadmap by 2018, when the final report on the implementation of the Roadmap will be submitted at the Ministerial Conference in Paris.

An Advisory Group on Support for the Belarus Roadmap was established to assist in implementation of the Roadmap. It includes representatives of governments, supranational institutions, and civil associations of member countries of the EHEA along with three representatives of Belarusian state education sector.

Challenges to implementing the Roadmap

Belarus would like to avoid a painful breakdown of its educational system, bypassing ‘empty-headed copying of western models’, as Aliaksandr Lukashenka likes to put it. He has named several possible negative effects of internationalisation for Belarus, including brain drain and loss of ‘patriotic, moral, and aesthetic education’.

The fact that the country’s leadership takes this stance is a significant factor hindering the integration of Belarus into the EHEA. What’s more, relevant legislative changes proposed by the Ministry of Education are contested by other governmental bodies and ministries, which are often wary of change.

A group of experts from the Public Bologna Committee has developed methodology for monitoring the quality of Roadmap implementation. This allows monitors to use an index to measure the Roadmap’s progress. The term set for Roadmap implementation is three years. The final index value as of June 30, 2016 was 8,7%. This leads experts to conclude that Roadmap implementation is still in its initial stages, and in some areas has not even started.

It should be noted that the Advisory Group on Support for the Belarus Roadmap is more optimistic about the Roadmap’s progress, but its working documents are not available publicly, making assessment difficult.

Experts assert that the development and implementation of the National Qualification framework, the quality assurance system, ECTS credits system, and Diploma Supplement has been delayed for unknown reasons. For three years, the Ministry of Labour has been working on the National Qualification framework, piloting projects for professional standards.

Institutions which do not directly relate to the education system create barriers to student and staff mobility. For example, advertisements for activities by foreign universities are regulated by the anti-human trafficking law, developed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The state funding of academic mobility remains very modest and does not allow to reach the planned EHEA student mobility indicator of 20% by 2020

The obligation for students whose education is financed by public funds to accept work placements upon graduation has remained in Belarus since Soviet times, which does not correspond to EHEA and demand in the economy. Moreover, there is a discrepancy between the education sector and the needs of the labour market.

Most Belarusian HEIs are state run; they are subject to orders from higher executive powers. Rectors are appointed by the President and are under political governance.

Universities are still used as a tool for political education by means of state ideology courses, youth organisations such as the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, obligatory work, and participation in state holidays and political events. For the most part, civil society is only able to influence decisions by the authorities through external actors, primarily the European Union.

Recommendations on Roadmap implementation

To implement the Roadmap on time, the responsible institutions should consider the following recommendations:

Social dimension and labour market. The obligation to accept work placements should be limited to specific areas, where there is a significant need for professionals. Legislative measures should be taken to provide incentives to employ university graduates via preferential tax treatment for employers and other fiscal mechanisms. Tools to ensure this include ratings and monitoring of the quality of education. Moreover, HEI funding should depend on the level of employment among graduates.

Student and staff mobility. Bureaucratic barriers to mobility should be eliminated in cooperation with the stakeholders among governmental bodies. State funding of academic mobility should be significantly increased. To prevent brain drain, students should be offered prospects for professional development through social partnership with employers.

Conference panel on Bologna process in Belarus (December 2016, mostly in Russian)

Academic freedoms and principles of university autonomy. Guarantees of citizens’ and institutions’ rights to free teaching, learning, research, and protection from government interference should be codified in legislation. Institutional autonomy should be guaranteed in organisational, financial, personnel, and academic spheres. Administrative barriers to creating freely functioning student unions, trade unions, and other public associations should be eliminated.

Transparency and involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. The institutions responsible for the implementation of the Bologna principles should provide stakeholders and the public with up-to-date information on the progress of reform. The Advisory Group on Support for the Belarus Roadmap should engage a wider spectrum of stakeholders in its activity, including NGOs and business and student associations, as well as facilitate regular expert dialogue.




Analytical Paper: Belarusian business education – from a command economy to the market

The Belarusian authorities have recently shown interest in developing business education; evidence of this can be found in the Concept adopted by the Belarusian government in 2015. However, the Ministry of Education has not yet done much to adjust state regulations to match the situation on the ground.

Three key problems exist today. Representatives of the government, the international community, and business educators would do well to focus on them: state regulations, poor integration into the international educational space and lack of affordable business education in the regions of Belarus.

These are some of the conclusions found in a new analytical paper Belarusian Business Education: from a Command Economy to the Market released by the Ostrogorski Centre today.

Introduction

Business education is probably the education sector most sensitive to the economic climate. Whereas neighbouring countries, such as Poland or Russia, experienced a boom in business education in the early 1990s – due to an increase of the private sector share of the economy – in Belarus the business education sector grew slowly. Belarusian business educators did not have powerful clients, such as Gazprom in Russia, and resembled training centres oriented towards small business.

The rapid growth of the Belarusian economy, accompanied by private sector expansion, was mirrored by growth in the sector of business education, reinforced by business schools at universities and long-term programmes in private business schools. In 2009, economic growth faltered and the business education market shrank correspondingly. This situation was exacerbated by the the current economic crisis.

Conference panel on business education in Belarus (December 2016, mostly in Russian)

This crisis has left Belarusian business education in the lurch, as it is probably here for the long run. Providers of business education, like many others, will have to adjust to life in this ‘new normality’. Nowadays, the clients of business educators are raising their expectations and demand more of a practical outlook from education offerings. This is apparently connected with the maturing of the Belarusian private sector, which currently assesses and oversees its own effectiveness.

Trends in the development of Belarusian business education

At present, four main actors dominate the business education market: the Business School at the Institute of Privatisation and Management, the consulting group ‘Here and Now’, and ‘Business School 21st Century’ (all private institutions), along with the state-run Institute of Business and Management of Technologies at the Belarusian State University. Together, these institutions account for about half of the business education market.

According to representatives of business education, the annual scope of the market of private companies has decreased two-fold since the beginning of the crisis in 2014, when it amounted to $6,5 million –$10,5 million. Currently, the market is starting to revive, as many companies believe improving their effectiveness might be a way out of the crisis. In addition, universities have experienced growth in the number of students enrolled in Master’s programmes in business-related specialties.

However, this growth has not been felt to the same extent in the regions, where prices for business education remain prohibitive for most entrepreneurs, as their salaries are on average one third lower. Generally speaking, according to market actors, only about 10-20% of business education takes place outside Minsk. The few exceptions include state regional universities offering business-related degree programmes, and the IPM business school, which has opened branches in all the regional centres of Belarus and uses distance learning technologies to keep prices for trainings relatively low.

Belarusian authorities have exhibited some interest in developing business education. This is evinced by the adoption of a corresponding Concept by the Belarusian government in 2015. Unfortunately, the targets proposed by the Concept are unrealistic and it is not being properly implemented. For example, it remains unclear how the business education market will grow to $50 million by 2020 in conditions of economic stagnation.

Nevertheless, the authorities have accomplished little in the way of adjusting state regulations to the situation on the ground. More concrete plans for the implementation of the Concept will most likely be hammered out after the establishment of the Republican Council on Development of the Business Education System, planned for 2017.

The main demand of business school representatives (both private and public) for the upcoming Republican Council is that state regulations be made more pragmatic. For example, many methods used by business schools, such as coaching or case-studies, simply do not conform to the regulations of academic universities. Thus, it is quite natural that representatives of private business schools would like to see the market liberalise as much as possible.

Today none of the private providers of business education, apart from the IPM business school, possess the status of ‘educational type-establishments’. This means that they cannot issue state-recognised diplomas in re-skilling and advanced training and they are not eligible for tax benefits enjoyed by state education providers. Obtaining the status of ‘educational type establishment’ is a complicated and labour-intensive procedure.

Basic problems for the business learning sphere

State regulations. Although state officials openly advocate ‘real equality of all actors on the business education market', two key issues remain unsolved. First, private and state business educators are subject to different taxation regimes. Secondly, private companies which do not possesses the status of educational establishments cannot issue state-recognised diplomas on re-skilling and advanced training of specialists.

These regulations harm not only private educators, but state universities as well. For state universities, it remains important that academic programmes be flexible (this means that state-mandated compulsory components of the curriculum should not exceed 50% of academic programmes). Also important is that the status of MBA graduates be reflected in the documents of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, and that people with no academic degrees but with practical experience in business could are allowed to become lecturers at university business schools

Poor integration into the international educational space. Belarusian business educators struggle with a lack of international accreditation from such organisations as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Association of MBAs, or the European Quality Improvement System. This is a significant problem on the world business education market. The only exception is the IPM business-school, which has an accredited programme (AMBA) with the Kozminski University in Poland.

Lack of affordable business education in the regions of Belarus. As prices for business education are set in the capital, many educational programmes are not affordable to regional business structures. One-day seminars, costing $ 70-90, can only attract the wealthiest regional businessmen, even though demand for such seminars could be quite high.

Therefore, the under-representation of business education in the regions creates a situation in which many entrepreneurs are simply unaware of the existence of business schools. According to an analysis conducted by the Research Centre of the IPM, over 40% of surveyed small and medium companies in Belarus do not know of a single business school.

Recommendations

As economic stimuli for market growth are absent, the Belarusian government could free sphere from unnecessary regulations which stand in the way of the development of business education. This would foster healthy competition between business schools. State schools too would benefit from deregulation, as they would no longer need to adjust their programmes to regulations on universities from the Ministry of Education. They would also be able to involve investors.

The international community can play a positive role by supporting the methodological development of business educators in Belarus. Today, Belarusian business schools require methodological training before they can offer long-term educational programmes. This is especially true for blended programmes which need valid methodology for distance learning. Moreover, foreign internships at Western business schools could be an invaluable experience for business educators who have no one to learn from in Belarus. These measures would increase the quality of work and the competence of teachers at business schools.

Given the competition between different business educators, assistance from the international community should be as broad as possible so as not to become a tool in competition. State-run and commercial companies may sometimes fail to meet the requirements of their grantors due to their status. Therefore, associations which bring together various providers of business education are the best fit for receiving foreign funds.

Moreover, foreign funds could be channelled into developing education in the regions of Belarus, where prices for business education remain prohibitive. Besides improving educational programmes, Belarusian business educators could use foreign assets to improve their presence in the regions, which would create a new administrative class for Belarusian companies.




Ostrogorski Centre: Belarus becomes neutral to survive

Ostrogorski Centre releases the first major publication on neutrality in Belarusian foreign and national security policy authored by Siarhei Bohdan and Gumer Isaev.

This trend towards a real neutrality of Belarus increased in the past decade. For a long time it was misinterpreted as Minsk opportunistically moving back and forth between Moscow and the West. Yet by the mid-2010s, these elements of neutrality became a reliable part of Belarusian foreign and national security policy.

This naturally leads one to question whether neutrality is a viable option for the Belarusian state. So far, Moscow accepted although other countries refused to take it serious. However, that may be the only way for Belarus to survive as a state in current circumstances.

First bigger research paper on Belarusian neutrality

For the purposes of this publication, done by Siarhei Bohdan and Gumer Isayev, neutrality is defined on the basis of modern-time political practice rather than formal legal concepts. Hence neutrality shall mean policies aimed at maintaining distance from political and military blocks and parties to conflicts.

This distance, certainly, differs depending on specific circumstances. It may include formal membership in associations of political and military integration, as well as bilateral security-related arrangements, as long as they do not crucially affect the international position of the country.

Given the extent of Belarusian-Russian entanglement, this paper focuses on the differences between Minsk and Moscow as the main reference point in study. All Belarusian attempts to assert neutrality necessarily start with readjusting the interaction between Belarus and Russia. Therefore, the study looked at the issues in which Minsk’s policy differed from Russia’s without siding with its opponents.

Neutrality or westward drift?

Among the major conclusions of the paper:

  • Although the 1994 Constitution of Belarus establishes its aim to become a neutral state, Belarusian neutrality remained a fiction for many years as Minsk remained a loyal ally of Russia.
  • However, since the late 2000s the Belarusian government has pursued policies demonstrating effective neutrality. This was the result of a series of ad hoc decisions by Belarusian leadership regarding the major issues of the country's foreign and national security policies.
  • Minsk avoided siding with Russia in its assertive policy in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, developed relations with Russia' opponents and opposed the redrawing of post-Soviet borders. Concurrently, the Belarusian government reviewed its own national security policies, limited Russian military presence within its borders and increased the autonomy of the Belarusian armed forces and security agencies.
  • Some Russian commentators have accused Minsk of “drifting” to the West. However, Minsk avoids challenging or confronting Moscow. The policy it now pursues can be better described as neutrality.

Recommendations: Neutrality requires participation of all major political forces

The authors of the paper conclude, Belarusian neutrality is being built ad hoc. Thus, it suffers from poor media coverage and weak expert support. The prospects of Belarusian neutrality still remain uncertain, as Minsk still needs it to be recognised in the East and West, as well as by neighbouring states.

There is no doubt that in order to implement some model of neutrality, the Belarusian government has yet to fulfil several challenging tasks. First of all, it requires recognition for Belarusian neutrality from its foreign partners, especially Russia. To do that, Minsk needs to prove that neutrality does not entail a pro-Western or anti-Russian stance.

Belarusian neutrality ought to be acceptable to Moscow. It means self-restraint for Belarusian foreign and national security policy, as well as self-restraint in domestic political debates. Such a policy could succeed and be accepted by Russia and other countries only if supported by a very wide consensus in Belarusian society.

However, most of the opposition, the media independent of the Belarusian government, and the related analytical community would not currently subscribe to neutrality. They would be especially wary of a model of neutrality involving close interaction with Russia (as in the Finnish case after WWII).

This problem is a general one: all other foreign policy and national security options except joining NATO and the EU have been discarded in the region over the last two decade and Minsk would have a difficult time overcoming this mindset. Nevertheless, the current Belarusian government has no other choice but to persuade broader segments of the Belarusian opposition about the necessity of supporting neutrality. It cannot accomplish this until the political regime becomes more pluralist and the constructive opposition has a stake in governance.

This broad public support for neutrality is necessary, inter alia, to convince Russia that Belarusian neutrality is the real will of all mainstream political forces in Belarus. Otherwise, there is an extremely high risk – if not certainty – that Russia would perceive Belarusian neutrality as a concept supported only by certain political factions and that it will be discarded by Minsk as soon as the constellation of forces in domestic Belarusian politics changes.

Likewise, in order to persuade Russia that Belarusian neutrality is genuine, Minsk needs a military capacity which would guarantee that Belarus does not compromise Russian security. To do that, firstly, Minsk shall accommodate reasonable and legitimate security needs of Russia. For instance, it can continue cooperating with Russia on air defence. Secondly, it needs to pay attention to Russian security needs and sensitivities in building Belarusian armed forces, e.g., by deploying appropriate arms systems.

Predetermined Choice?

In brief, Minsk, might have no other choice but “to go neutral”. The Belarusian establishment also understands that it is becoming ever more risky to remain Russia’s ally. At the same time, given the geographical location of Belarus, as well as its political economy and cultural ties with Russia, Minsk cannot simply “defect” to Western-dominated blocks and organisations.

Opinion surveys and other circumstantial evidence shows, the majority of Belarusians can choose neutrality. It can also found support among significant segments of Belarusian political, economic and cultural elites.

Other options – like further drift towards any foreign countries or blocs and joining them – might involve Belarus in internal political confrontations. Internal clashes would be supported by foreign powers as the case of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has demonstrated and can end in an open armed conflict. Given Belarus’ current position, which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, neutrality might be the only way for the Belarusian state to survive, develop, and succeed.

About the authors

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. He is an alumnus of the Belarus State University and holds an MA degree from the European Humanities University in Lithuania. Siarhei comes from Maladzechna, Belarus. Contact him at: s.bohdan@ostrogorski.org.

Gumer Isayev is associate professor at the Süleyman Şah University in Istanbul, Turkey, until it was closed down in a series of political repression after the July 2016 coup attempt. He holds an MA and PhD degrees from the State Saint Petersburg University in Russia. Gumer comes from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Contact him at: gisaev@gmail.com.




Analytical paper: Belarus-Russia relations after the Ukraine conflict

Since the Russian-Ukrainian conflict began, the Kremlin has persistently tried to expand its control over Belarus, a process that has had quite the opposite effect as Belarusian government policy became more independent in 2014-2015.

There has always existed a paradox in the simultaneous contingence and estrangement in Belarusian-Russian relations.

Estrangement looks the stronger of the two today, evidenced by the decrease in Belarus’ military dependence on Russia and its refusal to allow the establishment of a Russian military base on its territory; the reduction in the Russian economy’s role in Belarus; discrepancies in the foreign policy and media spheres; and conflicts between the political elites of both countries.

These are some of the conclusions found in a new analytical paper Belarus-Russia Relations after the Ukraine Conflict released by the Ostrogorski Centre today.

Background

This paper examines the integration/disintegration tendencies in Belarus-Russia relations since November 2013, when protests started in Ukraine. The ensuing Euromaidan, annexation of Crimea, and war in the Donbass have considerably altered European politics, including relations between Minsk and Moscow.

Despite close relations and the formal joint construction of the Union State, which also provides for integration processes, Belarus and Russia are becoming estranged from each other, in numerous ways. There are two reasons for this.

Lukashenka has probably never before taken so seriously the possibility of a Russian military operation inside Belarus

First, the Kremlin’s policy towards Ukraine led to a re-thinking inside Belarusian authoritative circles of the possible steps that Russia could take with regard to Belarus. Alexander Lukashenka has probably never before taken so seriously the possibility of a Russian military operation inside Belarus as he did when he claimed in May 2015 that the Belarusian army needs to be so strong that it is capable of “being thrown from Brest to Vitebsk in half a night to strike a blow”.

Secondly, the decline of the Russian economy lessens the Kremlin’s role as guarantor of Belarus’ well-being. In the conditions of slumping prices, shrinking of the domestic market, and declining GDP growth and forex reserves in Russia, diversification of the Belarusian economy has transformed from wishful thinking into a vital necessity.

Military disintegration: how to say “no” to your ally

Military cooperation has always been the “holy cow” of Belarusian-Russian integration, and the basis for journalists’ and Western experts’ statements presuming that the Belarusian army remains a part of the Russian one.

One of the grounds for such a presumption is the existence of the Integrated Regional Antiaircraft Defense System which, according to the Russian military, started functioning in 2016. The agreement on its creation was signed back in 2009 and in fact brought nothing new to Russian-Belarusian military cooperation. It looks likely that announcing the establishment of an antiaircraft defense system was aimed at making milder Belarus’ refusal to place a Russian military air base on its territory.

The refusal to create the airbase reflects a broader trend – i.e. Belarus’ attempts to reduce its military dependence on Russia. The presence of so many Belarusian military personnel in Russia has always ensured that there is a mental connection between the Belarusian and the Russian armies – it is hard to find any top Belarusian military official who has not studied in Russia.

However, the number of Belarusian military cadets at the Russian military’s higher educational establishments is decreasing: last academic year there were 447, this year only 374.

The joint Shield of the Union exercises in 2015 gathered 1.5 times fewer military personnel than the 2011 Shield of the Union or West-2013 exercises (i.e. 8,000 participants compared with 12,000). While military exercises seemed all but impossible without Russia before, today the Belarusian paratroopers practice with the Chinese every year.

Although the scope of such training exercises looks miserly in comparison with the exercises with Russia, it shows Belarus’ desire to find new partners.

China, in general, has become a noticeable partner for Belarus. This is most clearly seen in the joint development of weapons systems by Minsk and Beijing, the multiple launch rocket system fire Polonaise being an example.

Failure of the Eurasian Economic Union and economic cooperation

In many ways, Russia’s economic decay is responsible for the fact that in only its first year of existence, the Eurasian Economic Union’s (EEU) became a failure for Belarus.

First, the integration project inherited practically all the tariffs (about 600) that existed in the Customs Union. Due to such mechanisms, about two third of goods and services have been withdrawn from the common market of the EEU. Secondly, economic interaction between the countries has reduced. According to data provided by the Eurasian Economic Commission, the trade turnover of Belarusian goods with the EU countries in 2015 was only 74.8 % of that in 2014.

Thirdly, although Belarus has introduced unpopular measures like increasing fees for the import of cars, the regulations of the economic union serve Russia’s interests, as evidenced by the continuing economic wars. Fourthly, the importance of oil and gas, which were the key motivators for Belarus to join the EEU, have fallen sharply

Discrepancies in foreign policy

Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and economic decline have become one of the most important motivators for the Belarusian authorities to normalise relations with the West. Data provided by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) shows that since 2013 Belarus has intensified its relations with the European Union, and today contacts with the EU outnumber those with Russia.

The BISS data reflects the fact that Belarus started normalising relations with the EU and building up contacts with “developing countries” at the beginning of 2013. This included support for Ukraine’s European integration. This shows that the increase in dialogue with the West started not because of Russia’ expansionist policy, but for internal reasons.

It is nonetheless indisputable that the activation of Belarusian contacts with the world and deepening discrepancies in the foreign policies of Moscow and Minsk in 2013-2014 were in many respects a product of Russia’s foreign policy and economic decline.

It is important to note that Belarus’ normalisation of relations with the West is not an attempt at a geopolitical U-turn. So far, neither Belarus on the one side, nor the European Union and the United States on the other, have taken any cardinal steps in the form of big economic projects (Belarus still hasn’t even managed to obtain a loan from the International Monetary Fund) and contact in the political and military spheres remains at a low level.

Conclusion

Despite Belarus’ lessening dependence on Russia, relations seem unlikely to come to the point of a dramatic breakdown in integration.

First, Belarus remains overdependent on Russia financially – it continues to receive from Russia loans and “subsidies” – i.e. discounts for oil and gas and access to the common market. Furthermore, it remains highly important to Lukashenka that Russia acknowledges the results of the presidential elections in Belarus. Secondly, Belarus remains an important country in Europe for Russia. Therefore, the Kremlin won’t allow the total disintegration of the two countries’ relationship.

Nonetheless, the process of estrangement will continue further, and this is also connected with the generational changes inside the societies. The number of Belarusians who once lived in the same state as Russia – the USSR – is steadily decreasing and the quantity of people who identify themselves as ethnically Russian is reducing. Also a new nomenclature elite is emerging, interest in Belarusian culture is reviving, and young people are becoming more open to the world.

And the last, but important change: a political class that is accustomed to sovereign power, in which decisions are taken independently, has formed in Belarus.

Ryhor Astapenia & Dzmitry Balkuniets




Minsk Dialogue Non-Paper: Another Yalta is Impossible

The organisers of the Minsk Dialogue conference in Minsk (Liberal Club and the Ostrogorski Centre) released the non-paper timed for the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit which will take place in Riga on 21-22 May 2015.

The non-paper results from intensive discussions between experts from European Union, Russia and Eastern Partnership countries in Minsk and subsequent due diligence efforts.

The non-paper starts by analysing the reasons for the regional divide in the European Union and Russian shared neighbourhood, discusses the reasons why communication between major regional actors failed and the need for new channels of communication in the region bases, including increased communication on micro-level and within the expert community.

Regional Divide: Nature and Challenges

1. The post-Soviet fragmentation poses numerous regional risks, which are daunting against the background of the geopolitical escalation in Eastern Europe.

2. Lack of communication across dividing lines, between the West and Russia, further strengthens the pre-exisiting deficit of trust among regional actors and stakeholders. As a result, all the relevant actors place the Ukraine crisis in their own domestic contexts, often without taking into account the bigger picture.

3. The Eastern Partnership, in contrast to the European Neighbourhood Policy, was originally perceived by Moscow as a project that threatens Russia’s interests. With the progress of the association negotiations between the European Union and several partner countries, the Eastern Partnership acquired the character of a geopolitical struggle. After this, conflict became unavoidable.

4. The geopolitical struggle already turned into the driving force behind the accelerated Eurasian integration. As a result, in less than five years the project formally passed through three stages: from a customs union to a common economic space to an economic union. However, a number of fundamental issues remained unaddressed in the course of the integration process. In particular, the identity problem – on what values does the Eurasian integration rest? – has been neither discussed nor resolved. Technically speaking, of the four economic freedoms that the European Union espouses, only one of those – free movement of labour – fully operates in the Eurasian Economic Union.

5. As the European Union example suggests, true economic integration only works when countries pool sovereignty. In the case of the Eurasian Economic Union, integration institutions such as the Eurasian Economic Commission are dominated by Russia and important decisions are made at the national level. Due to these and other internal factors the Eurasian Economic Union has almost exhausted its potential for further enlargement.

6. Integration projects in the ‘shared neighbourhood’ (both EU- and Russia-driven) remain elite-centric. Thus, they lack societal cohesion and cause fragmentation at critical junctures. At the same time, recently societies in countries with more liberal political regimes have emerged as a new factor in international relations. However, their role (and relations) with traditional political and diplomatic actors remains uncertain.

7. Under these circumstances, a choice between the East and West inevitably brings conflict and further polarizes societies in the shared neighbourhood.

8. The integration rationale of the ‘in-between’ countries is based on the idea of integration advantages (natural and financial resources, beneficial trade, and modernisation opportunities, etc). Ultimately, the states in the shared neighbourhood fear a USSR-like situation: domination of the centre without sufficient resources.

9. The role of the United States in the ‘shared neighbourhood’ is heavily exploited in propaganda but insufficiently addressed in diplomacy. A sustainable solution to the crisis requires an active engagement of all actors – EU, Russia, United States and the countries in question.

Bridging the Divide: Track-I

10. Quick solutions to the problem of geopolitical escalation in Eastern Europe are unlikely to succeed, as regional tensions remain high and warring states are still determined to fight for their cause. Therefore, stopping hostilities in Donbas is of the utmost priority. No political settlement in Ukraine and in the region at large is possible beforehand.

11. Countries in the ‘shared neighbourhood’ should be important players on all matters of crisis resolution and post-crisis regional settlement. Small countries have levers and abilities to block some of the Great Powers’ decisions. Hence, “another Yalta is impossible”.

12. To be both viable and attractive, regional integration projects need to fit into the constellation of international relations in eastern Europe that will emerge after the Ukraine crisis. At a minimum, they need to avoid strengthening dividing lines and provide the ‘in-between’ states with enough space for geopolitical and geo-economic complementarity. In the case of the Eastern Partnership, a double-track approach is emerging, as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have effectively formed an ‘association league’. But the other three EaP countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus – should not be isolated.

13. A sustainable security area in the shared neighbourhood cannot be built without Russia. Nor can Ukraine’s economic problems be effectively addressed in the short term without Russia. Therefore, the European Union ignoring Moscow and vice versa is not helpful. Long-term regional solutions need to reflect the reality on the ground and incorporate decision-makers in the regions as well.

14. Confidence-building among regional actors and stakeholders is key to de-escalation in the shared neighbourhood. Intensified communication across dividing lines with a focus on technical, rather than geopolitical, issues should be prioritised.

15. The concept of a ‘Greater Europe’ from Lisbon to Vladivostok remains abstract, as it is not clear how conceptually valid it is without resolving the intractable Crimea problem. However, the idea of modernisation in the framework of a common economic area has potential to become a common denominator, but only in the longer run.

16. Depoliticised technical discussions about prospects for a common economic area between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union need to begin as confidence-building exercises and a contribution to future stability. They should not focus on the macro level only. The micro level (local and district public administrations, businesses, local communities, cross-border cooperation etc.) is of crucial importance. Economically at least, the questions remain the same anyway: rule of law, quality of infrastructure, customs practices, administrative efficiency, business climate, etc.

Bridging the Divide: Track-II

17. Against the backdrop of existing dividing lines and growing geopolitical escalation, a track-II dialogue is a crucial channel of communication and another pillar of confidence-building among actors and stakeholders in the region.

18. Minsk has demonstrated itself to be a suitable venue for such a dialogue due to its newly established status as neutral ground for negotiations to resolve the Ukraine crisis. It has the clear potential to attract experts from all countries in the region and has now been proven “fit” to host discussions about relations between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union – due to precedent, and perhaps more importantly, due to its unique status as an original member of both the Eurasian Economic Union and the Eastern Partnership.

19. A track-II platform in Minsk (the “Minsk Dialogue”) should organise regular meetings with a view to facilitating inclusive discussions about prospects, rather than focusing on the status quo and present-day positions of regional actors.

20. The issue of protracted territorial conflicts in the shared neighbourhood (including lessons from the older conflicts in the post-Soviet space for the Donbas crisis) should be a priority for future Minsk Dialogue meetings, especially given Minsk’s other role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (the “other” “Minsk Group”). A technical dialogue between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union would be another priority, only with a longer-term perspective.

This non-paper is the result of the inaugural conference held in Minsk on 26-28 March 2015. The Minsk Dialogue is a joint initiative by two Belarusian think-tanks – the Liberal Club and the Ostrogorski Centre – that aims to create a Track-II platform to address the most challenging international issues in the ‘shared neighbourhood between the European Union and Russia. The Minsk Dialogue undertakes regular expert gatherings and publications to offer up-to-date policy advice for fostering cooperation across existing dividing lines.




From Sanctions to Summits: Belarus after the Ukraine Crisis

Belarus is returning to the international spotlight, but for once, not just as the “last dictatorship in Europe”. The two summits that Minsk hosted in the past year on the conflict in east Ukraine indicate a tentative shift in Belarus’s political alignment.

Yaraslau Kryvoi and Andrew Wilson analyze what the West should do in relation to Belarus in a paper produced jointly by the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Ostrogorski Centre.

Although Belarus was more of a broker than a genuine neutral party at the negotiations that produced the two “Minsk Agreements”, the government has profound doubts about Russia’s assault on its neighbour’s sovereignty.

But despite some changes in rhetoric, Belarus is not adjusting its foreign policy because it wants to change itself. Instead, Lukashenka wants to preserve his system from Russian pressure. But recent moves to strengthen Belarusian sovereignty and nationhood risk undermining his traditional method of balancing between the West and Russia.

Lukashenka’s current overtures to the West differ from those he made in the previous period of tentative engagement in 2009-2010. That engagement ultimately failed because of the uneasy balance within a twin-track policy, with Belarus seeking foreign policy insurance against Russia by making token moves towards softening authoritarianism. This time, the second track is different. If the West seeks to engage, it will be by supporting Belarusian statehood, not by encouraging a putative domestic mini-liberalisation.

The EU has two ways to respond, either based on geopolitics and concern about Russia, or based in an effort to strengthen Belarusian society in the longer term. Both would drop the conditionality approach of “more for more” in all but name.

The EU would confine itself to supporting Lukashenka’s policy of adjustment towards Russia, but without expecting fundamental change inside Belarus, and without taking steps that might make relations with Russia even worse.

The EU would offer to assist in a more modern form of nation building, one that would gradually empower civil society from within

A more productive approach would be focused on Belarus itself, and would renew the policy of “engagement” without the unrealistic hopes of 2009-2010. The EU would offer to assist in a more modern form of nation building, one that would gradually empower civil society from within. The possibility of fomenting a quick regime change in Belarus has been unlikely since at least 2006.

The policy of engagement with Belarusian society recommended here would not be inconsistent with retaining individual visa bans and targeted sanctions imposed as a proportionate response to political imprisonment.

So, instead of criticising the regime from the sidelines, this approach would aim at patiently increasing if the EU’s presence in Belarus. The focus should be not just on human rights, but more broadly on the rule on law, not so much on quick political changes but more on good governance and fighting corruption. Without a presence on the ground, the EU has no bargaining power.

Such an approach would entail four main strands of EU activity:

  • The EU should help to strengthen statehood and national identity politics as well as to counter the Russian propaganda machine.
  • The EU should engage more across the board: in the first place, with civil society, which should ultimately create more demand for sovereignty, democracy, and the rule of law in Belarus, but it should also interact more with the bureaucracy at all levels.
  • Europe should provide indirect economic assistance: conduct a dialogue on economic modernisation and help with WTO membership and with expanding the role of the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
  • The EU should encourage stronger cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine, to ease Russian pressure on both states.

Countering Russian propaganda will be one of the most important tasks. The EU needs to confront aggressive anti-Western propaganda, which comes primarily from Russian media outlets in Belarus. Making independent media more accessible by means of increased and more effective trans-border TV, FM radio, and internet broadcasting would lead to more demand for democratic change.

At the same time, Belarusians should be given better access to information about the EU, its history and values. Although the EU has a Representative Office in Minsk, much more should be done to promote the EU at universities (for example, by organising public lectures, exchanges, and essay competitions) or for the wider public through civil society organisations. The EU needs to continue supporting Belsat TV, which is based in Poland, but it also needs to go beyond that and empower local voices from within.

Belarusian bureaucracy, the most influential group in Belarusian society, has much less understanding of the EU

In the past, the West has focused on educating human rights and opposition political activists about the EU and its values. But the Belarusian bureaucracy, the most influential group in Belarusian society, has much less understanding of the EU; it mainly gets its information from Russia-dominated media.

Brussels should increase its work in experience transfer and should intensify educational programmes for officials (particularly the younger ones), focusing not on general geopolitical contradictions but on practical technical regulations, standards, and procedures. By engaging officials at all levels in meaningful cooperation, the EU will stimulate appetite for reforms in Belarus.

The EU has paid insufficient attention to the role of national identity in Belarus. For instance, the European Humanities University in Lithuania, one of the largest donor-supported projects, has slowly drifted from being Belarus-focused to catering for a larger group of Russian-speakers in the former Soviet space. However, without the development of a stronger national identity, Belarus could easily become a part of Russia, particularly after Lukashenka is gone.

Civil society groups should be supported, but so should the cautious steps of the Belarusian authorities, who are afraid to anger the Russian nationalists now dominant in Russia. This support should take the form not just of moral encouragement but also of concrete long-term programmes. This is one of the areas in which the interests of the Belarusian authorities, civil society, and the EU coincide.

Belarus receives more Schengen visas per capita than any other country but most of these visas are issued for only a few days or months

Lowering the visa barrier by decreasing visa fees and making them free for many categories of Belarusians would also strengthen pro-European sentiment in wider Belarusian society, as would developing business and civil society contacts.

Currently Belarus receives more Schengen visas per capita than any other country. But most of these visas are issued for only a few days or months, forcing Belarusians to submit repeatedly to expensive, tedious and sometimes humiliating visa procedures. The EU should issue more multiple-year visas for Belarusians who have a good history of travelling to the EU. This should become a rule rather than an exception.

The EU's scholarship programmes, such as the European Scholarship Scheme for Young Belarusians, should be expanded to include exchanges of PhD students and academics. However, it is not enough to help young people leave Belarus and study at Western universities. It is equally important to create fellowship programmes to support Western-qualified Belarusians in returning to their home country to work in education, public sector, or policy- oriented organisations. That would address Belarus’s need for Western expertise and alleviate the brain-drain problem.

Although the Eastern Partnership has largely failed to reach its objectives on Belarus, it is important to keep Belarus involved even just as a formal member of this club, to enable it to cooperate with Ukraine and other countries of the region on matters of mutual interest. Clearly, the current Belarusian leadership remains uninterested in the prospect of joining the EU, which means that it has a very different motivation to leaders of countries such as Ukraine. This means a more individualised approach is needed.

Finally, many of the problems Belarus faces are similar to those of Ukraine. This should lead to the encouragement and funding of cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine at all levels (state and non-state), including common research initiatives, grant programmes, and exchange schemes for academics and policymakers.

 

 

3 May 2015: From Sanctions to Summits: Belarus after the Ukraine crisis by Ecfr on Mixcloud

 



Analytical Paper: Belarusian Identity – The Impact of Lukashenka’s Rule

The regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka rejected the ethno-national model of state suggested by his predecessors in the early 1990s.Instead, he restored a soviet style “statist nation” with a centralised bureaucratic machine at its core.

These are the conclusions reached in a new analytical paper "Belarusian Identity: The Impact of Lukashenka's Rule" released by the Centre for Transition Studies today.

Identity issues, particularly those surrounding language and historical narrative, formed the foundation of the persisting cleavage between the authoritarian regime and the democratic opposition in Belarus since 1994. The population of the country, although not nearly as divided with regard to its identity as Ukraine, also has not produced a consensual version of self-determination.

The paper presents an analysis of the processes in Belarusian national identity, particularly with regards to its language, historical narratives and self-contextualisation in an international setting since its independence, especially under the rule of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

Based on a number of empirical studies, it attempts to trace a detailed picture of the impact of the political regime and its major political and economic interests in the formulation of Belarus’ national identity.

Lukashenka’s Identity Policy

Shortly after his election in 1994, Aliaksandr Lukashenka launched a policy of russification. The rationale behind it seemed clear – Lukashenka chose Russia as a strategic priority for Belarus’ foreign relations, hoping to quickly recover from the economic crisis through re-establishing Soviet economic ties. The other reason for the pro-Russian politics of the regime stemmed from the anti-Russian discourse of opposition. Although ideologically diverse, it was associated with the right wing Belarusian People’s Front and state propaganda labelled it with radical nationalist ideas.

In 1995, Lukashenka initiated a referendum to introduce Russian as a second official language in Belarus. 83.3% of voters supported the initiative. From this point on the Belarusian language has suffered a major decline. Although the Constitution of Belarus declares the equal status of both languages, Russian de facto dominates all spheres of life. The Law on Languages of 1990 does not set strict rules on the use of both languages in the day-to-day operations of the state, and public organisations and officials usually use Russian.

Since the early 2000s all major Belarus-based media broadcasts in Russian, leaving Belarusian only a small quota in cultural sphere. Apart from Minsk, not a single fully Belarusian school currently functions in any other major cities in Belarus. In higher education, the picture is rather similar – an all-Belarusian language university does not exist in Belarus.

The paper notes that most of the population take a more pragmatic stance towards the language issue and follow the example established by the ruling elite. The only actor that has made any serious attempts to revive the Belarusian language and introduce it into public life is civil society.

Trends in Language Use: a Russian-speaking Belarusian Nation

As the data on identity and language use from recent decades show, the proportion of those who identify themselves as Belarusians is increasing, but the use of Belarusian has dramatically declined, leading to the formation of a Russian-speaking Belarusian nation.

Only a quarter of Belarusians speak Belarusian at home, which roughly equals the number of the total rural population. In Minsk, the number of people who indicated Belarusian as their native language has decreased almost two-fold over 1999-2009. In general, only a little more than 10 per cent of the urban population of Belarus speaks Belarusian at home, and in its largest cities this number is much smaller.

The region with the highest percentage of Belarusian-speakers is the one to the northwest of Minsk on the Lithuanian border. Interestingly, this particular region historically correlates with the most the pro-democratic and anti-Lukashenka voting area.

Politics of History and Self-Awarenes: Soviet Glory with a Mediaeval Flavour

Lukashenka’s narrative of history, however, managed to reconcile the nationalist version of history of the pre-Soviet period with its own modern conception of Belarusian history. They both agree that Belarusian statehood has a long tradition of independent existence and is valued by all Belarusians.

Also, unlike the Soviet version of Belarusian history, which involved class struggle and Russia-centrism in every period of Belarusian history, the official narrative does not pay much attention to the class-based approach nor does it seek to prove the ancient roots of Belarus' friendship with Russia. Still, the period of independence (since the early 1990s) remains the most ideologically charged and distorted issue, as it involves the rule of Lukashenka himself.

The self-awareness of Belarusians experienced massive influence from the Lukashenka regime's ideological discourse. It presents a mix of both nationalist and Soviet concepts and therefore creates the same mixed view in the minds of people, who know their roots are to be found somewhere in a mediaeval European context, but at the same time respect Soviet symbols.

When asked “What unites you with other people of your nationality?”, Belarusians most often refer to territory and state, rather than culture and language. Political unity based on the state serves the core idea of the official ideology of the Lukashenka regime.

Belarusians see the origin of Belarusian statehood in mediaeval Polack and Turaŭ princedoms and the Great Duchy of Lithuania, not in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Yet at the same time they have already accepted the symbols that the Lukashenka regime introduced in the 1990s, such as national holidays and the red-green flag.

Geopolitical Choice of Belarusians: Pragmatism without Soviet Sentimentalism

The studies reviewed in preparing the analytical paper showed that the geopolitical views of Belarusians express a purely utilitarian understanding of foreign relations and are ready to join that integration project which will offer them the most economic benefits.

These views, in many ways, resemble the opportunistic foreign policy of Lukashenka’s regime, which seeks momentary benefits without any concrete strategic approach.

A large number of Belarusians express isolationist views, while others are divided in deciding between the east and the west. No consensus on this matter exists in Belarusian society and Belarus truly remains a place where civilisations clash.

Although Belarusians are often considered a Soviet-style nation that persists in holding onto the USSR’s legacy, and contrary to popular thought, the people actually do not want to witness the restoration of Soviet power.




Analytical Paper: Optimising EHU’s Impact on Belarus

The European Humanities University (EHU) was forced into exile in 2004 when the Belarusian authorities withdrew its licence. This followed the EHU’s refusal to acquiesce to government pressure to change its leadership. The exiled University found its new home in Vilnius, which is less three-hours by train from Minsk.

The current rector of the EHU should step down soon in line with the requirements of Lithuanian law, having served two terms. The Centre for Transition Studies publishes a paper authored by Yaraslau Kryvoi and Alastair Rabagliati which aims to launch a constructive public discussion on the direction of the EHU under the new leadership, to deal with the challenges facing both the EHU and Belarusian society.

The authors interviewed by e-mail and by telephone over 20 individuals related to the EHU, including its alumni, lecturers, administration, donors and well as representatives of Belarusian civil society who worked with the University in the past. Many agreed that an open discussion would benefit the university.

The EHU is an important and valuable institution for the future of Belarus. However, public information and debate about the direction of the university has been limited. Most media coverage has focused on the story of the university going into exile rather than its effectiveness. This paper intends to fill this gap.

The EHU is at a Crossroads

With no change in Belarus on the horizon, the university needs to prepare itself for continued exile. Ten years after the EHU established itself in Vilnius, many donors continue to support the EHU as they have taken natural sympathy for their struggle. However, they are now paying increasing attention to the impact of the funding, and considering in more detail whether the University could increase its self-funding.

Most media coverage has focused on the story of the university going into exile rather than its effectiveness.

As this paper demonstrates, the university has recently shifted its focus from Belarus-related courses, publications, staff and the Belarusian language towards an institution aiming to cater a broader group of students from the countries of the former Soviet Union. The Belarusian component was more prominent during its early years in exile. Now the vision of the University mentions Belarus primarily as a source of students, among other students from the region rather than as the main target of its activities.

The internationalisation of the University, which features prominently in the description of the University’s vision for the future, is likely to lead to a decrease in Belarus-focused studies, staff and students. The EHU risks losing its distinction from other regional private universities, which raises the question about why it should continue to be eligible for donor’s support.

For example, Polish universities (especially private ones, like Lazarski University) have neither specific donor support, nor a special focus on Belarus. However, their prices are affordable and Belarusians are ready to pay for the benefits of an EU education. Perhaps ironically it is Lazarski University that has organised a series of conferences on historical and political perspectives on Belarus that observers argue should be the EHU’s trademark.

Another concern is that joint programmes with other universities are liable in reality only to amount to subsidising Belarusian students to study at regular regional universities rather than creating a specific Belarus focused environment.

Therefore to fulfil its role as a university in exile and centre of academic development for a new generation of Belarusians, the University should retain its Belarusian character and focus on areas of “added value” for Belarus. Rather than becoming an ordinary “internationalised” university, the EHU should learn from other successful émigré universities, notably the Ukrainian Free University in Munich, which educated generations of Ukrainians.

Towards Greater Sustainability through Focusing on Belarus

With its location away from the restrictive political climate of Belarus, areas where the EHU is well positioned to provide “added value” include political science, Belarusian history, human rights, Belarusian language and literature as well as journalism.

The EHU with its new concept of internationalisation risks losing its distinction from other regional private universities, which raises the question about why it should continue to be eligible for donor’s support.

The EHU has the potential to become the main scientific hub for Belarus, both for research and academic studies. In this way it would be ideally placed to obtain further funding (such as through EU university research programmes) or donor support (linked to democratisation in Belarus).

The EHU could work on meeting the need for high quality research on Belarus, especially linked to developing concrete plans for reforms in Belarus. Currently there is a lack of organisations that are able to perform this role.

To increase interest among young Belarusians in programmes such as political science, history or Belarusian studies the university should not only offer scholarships but also recruit and retain high calibre academics working in these areas providing them with job security guarantees typical for EU universities.

The paper suggests establishing a robust disclosure mechanism of research, teaching and policy impact based on measurable indicators. This mechanism could take the form of expanding existing oversight bodies to ensure that relevant donors, implementers, Belarusian civil society, Belarusian diaspora and the Lithuanian government all have a chance to review reports and be consulted on the most important decisions.

While the aim of a sustainable EHU, less dependent on donors’ funding, is supported, this paper argues that donors should continue to firmly back the EHU as a valuable institution, which could play a unique role in the future of Belarus. External support, however, should be targeted at the “added value” areas while other EHU programmes could be paving the way for self-funding.




Analytical Paper: Who Rules Belarus?

Belarus Digest and the Centre for Transition Studies are launching a series of analytical papers offering in-depth analysis of various aspects of Belarus often overlooked by Western experts and press.

The forthcoming papers will deal with personalities within the Belarusian regime, national identity of Belarusians, the system of education in Belarus, reforms of bureaucracy, business climate and other topics.

The first paper prepared by Siarhei Bohdan analyses the Belarusian political and economic establishment, its features and potential and prospects for change. While the government’s authority is concentrated in President Lukashenka, he needs a sophisticated state structures to run the country and has retained his retinue for years. While Lukashenka as a politician has been analysed quite extensively, his close comrades have scarcely been studied.

The paper annex contains personal portraits of key figures in the Belarusian regime, including Lukashenka's older son Viktar, Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey.

Belarusian ruling elites emerged as a result of an effective power-sharing deal between Soviet-era bureaucrats and new supporters of the Belarusian president who have risen from the depths of the provinces to the very top due to their talent and unscrupulous ambitions.

This liaison has proven successful both in terms of its cohesion and performance.There has been just one failed mutiny, occurring in the late 1990s amongst the nomenclature, while the consolidated regime-linked elites have run Belarus rather successfully in terms of its governance and economy.

Politically, Belarusian ruling elites of whatever origin have opted for an original path of development which has contradicted Western ideas about democracy and human rights, However, the opportunistic opposition to the West is not based on any profound ideology. The ruling establishment in Belarus can act as responsible and reasonable partner for the West if offered a pragmatic deal.

While pragmatically working with the ruling elites for the sake of preserving Belarusian independence and working towards an eventual smooth transformation, the West should simultaneously demonstrate to the Belarusian people realistic prospects of cooperation with Europe at the same time placing firm demands on the government.