Census of Belarusian-Speakers, Pressure on Freelancers – Belarus Civil Society Digest
A new initiative of Mova Nanova – Census of Belarusian-speaking Population aims to demonstrate that Belarusian-speaking people exist in all sphere of life all over the country.
Minsk Hub has launched a campaign promoting the facilitation of Schengen visa procedures. Now every Belarusian can sign the Free to Move e-petition.
Sviatlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel laureate, was awarded with “The Civil Leader of the Year”.
Civil society initiatives
Mova Nanova has launched Census of Belarusian-Speaking Population. The idea of the campaign initiated by free lessons in Belarusian is to show that Belarusian-speaking people exist in all spheres of life and all over Belarus. The Mova Nanova web site contains a template that allows for everyone to post a photo, name, occupation and location. Launched on 18 January the viral campaign has already collected about 1,300 posters with distribution in social networks.
Minsk Hub has launched a campaign promoting the facilitation of Schengen visa procedures. Global Shapers Minks Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, has started the Free to Move campaign which promotes facilitation of Schengen visa procedures. The Free to Move e-petition calls upon the European Parliament and EU countries’ Permanent Representatives to the EU with the request to endorse the Commission’s legislative proposal.
Civil Society champions 2015 were awarded in Minsk. On 15 January the Assembly of NGOs arranged the 7th Civil Society Champions Award Ceremony to estimate leaders and the most significant events of the last year in the third sector. An award “The Civil Leader of the Year” was given to Sviatlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel laureate; the Campaign of the Year was a solidarity campaign with the cadets of the Jastrambelskaja school; the Media/Journalist of the Year nomination took a blogger Anton Matolka.
Talaka.by sums up its results in figures. A non-profit platform Talaka.by has calculated its major achievements for 2015 in numbers. Among them, 50 trained consultants in project consulting; 8,165 participants involved in the contest #RazamMinsk; 126 projects placed at Talaka.by; 15 successful crowd funding campaigns; 136,752 unique visitors of the web site; 3.6 million contacts covered by the publications about Talaka.by, etc.
A Belarusian attends the WEF Annual Meeting 2016. On 20-23 January Minsk Shapers Hub founder Denis Kolga attends the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. Minsk Hub is among 50 Hubs of the Global Shapers Community honoured to be represented at the prestigious event. At the WEF the Belarusian presents an idea to set up in Belarus a long-lasting international platform, which would deal with resolution of conflicts which affect post-Soviet countries.
Call for sections for the 6th International Congress of Belarusian Studies. Organising committee announces call for sections for the 6th International Congress of Belarusian Studies that will take place on 7-9 October 2016 in Kaunas, Lithuania. Sections (panels) can be disciplinary, thematic or focus on particular narrow problems. Application deadline is 15 March.
Eastern European School of Political Studies (EESPS) in cooperation with the Council of Europe announces a call for fellows. Belarusian citizens under 35 years old are invited to participate. The program includes three or four educational sessions, the first of which is scheduled in Ukraine, and the last – in Strasbourg (the World Forum for Democracy). Deadline for application is 16 February.
Good Neighbour. The Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) launches a new service under the Leadership in Local Communities program. The new program Good Neighbour will offer free consultations, mentorship assistance and thematic workshops in the field of community development to Leadership course participants and any interested activists across Belarus.
Interaction between state and civil society
Student activist got expelled from the Belarusian State University. Hleb Vaikul is the participant of the student march of Love and Solidarity that took place in Minsk, on 2 December 2015. Later he was fined Br3.24 mln (around $170) for violating the order of holding mass events and expelled from Philology Faculty on grounds of alleged poor progress. According to the student, the real reason of his being withdrawn is his public activity.
Authorities want to deprive Ales Bialiacki of place of residence. Ales Bialiacki, the head of the Human Rights centre Viasna, has received a ruling from the department of enforcement of judgments that a part of his flat falls under arrest. According to the writ of execution, 18/100th share of Ales Bialiacki’s flat, in which he lives permanently with his family, shall be arrested as part of the property to be confiscated, within his criminal case of 2011.
Perspektiva was refused the premises for the forum. The Forum of Entrepreneurs is scheduled for 25 January but all attempts to find the venue in Minsk failed. Accordingly, Perspektiva NGO that organised the previous forums has released a statement, that declares that the Forum is thwarted by authorities, but Perspektiva is to continue to operate under the legal framework. The statement has been published on Facebook page of Perspektiva Head Anatoli Shumchanka, as the Perspektiva’s website isn’t available.
BAJ appeals to president's administration on persecution of freelancers. The Belarusian Association of Journalists sent a request to the president’s administration with the view to clarifying the reasons for the renewed persecution against some journalists under article 22.9 (unlawful production and distribution of mass media products). To the moment, the total number of cases is 38; the total sum of the fines in 2015 amounted to 8,000 euro.
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 is Сhanging Rapidly and Needs the West
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, coupled with Russia's economic decline, has facilitated the separation of Belarusian national identity from all things Russian. The government has made an effort to differentiate Belarus's interests from those of the Kremlin and to wean the country off Russia's military and economic support.
Some new members of the political elite have even demonstrated a willingness to collaborate with civil society representatives and to reform the Belarusian economy. Liberals in the government are increasingly open to dialogue with independent economists.
And yet, old habits die hard. The authorities continue to falsify elections and to expel democratic activists from universities. And while the private sector's share of national GDP in 2015 may have exceeded the government's share for the first time, the state continues to dominate the Belarusian economy.
What has changed
Financial Diet: Reforming State Finances of Belarus, a book written by a group of twenty Belarusian and foreign economists, is coming out this month. The book's editor Kiryl Rudy is an economic adviser to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka, and one of the younger representatives of the Belarusian political elite. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the United States, and worked as a lecturer and an economic counsellor at the Belarusian Embassy in China.
In the past, Rudy has not shied away from supporting Western-funded pro-reform events such as the Kastrychnicki Ekanamichny Forum. He also invited several independent think-tank analysts to become co-authors of the new book.
This change in style appears to be rubbing off. In December and January, Pavel Danejka, one of the most influential pro-reform economists in Belarus, was interviewed by the state-owned paper Belarus Segodnia (Belarus Today). Such readiness to collaborate suggests that the pro-reform bureaucrats may need independent economists to say what they cannot express themselves.
Belarusian economy shrank by 4 per cent last year, this decline occurred mainly in the public sector Read more
Rudy's appointment in 2013 reflects the slow rejuvenation of the Belarusian political elite, who increasingly advocate reforming the Belarusian economy. New appointees include Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Mikalai Snapkou, First Deputy Prime Minister Vasil Maciusheuski, Ambassador of Belarus to France Pavel Latushka, and others.
The changes in the ranks of Lukashenka's bureaucracy have been conducive to some changes in the country's economic policy. For the first time on Lukashenka's watch, Belarus's central bank, the National Bank, has acted prudently to stabilise the country's macreconomic fundamentals.
Although the Belarusian economy shrank by 4 per cent last year, this decline occurred mainly in the public sector. Independent experts and government officials say that in 2015 the GDP share of the private sector may have exceeded the government's share for the first time.
Dissociating from Moscow
In the last two years, Belarusian national identity has experienced a revival of sorts. In 2015, "Mova nanova” Belarusian language courses were held in ten cities; Belarus's top basketball team Cmoki (Dragons) took down the Russian-language version of its website; and oil company A-100 started to use the Belarusian language when communicating with its clients. Even the official policy towards the Belarusian language has changed, as the authorities adopt policies to foster rather than hinder its development.
Belarusian national identity has strengthened not only culturally, but also politically and militarily.
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. Read more
The Belarusian authorities have sought to dissociate themselves from Russia's actions in the international arena. The Belarusian regime, for all intents and purposes, seeks a conciliatory role in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Minsk has also refused to support Moscow's expansion in the Middle East. President Lukashenka even stated that Belarus would like to mediate the conflict between Moscow and Ankara following the downing of a Russian jet fighter by Turkey.
Some changes have also taken place in the military sphere. Belarus has urged the Kremlin to abandon plans to establish a military base in the country. At the same time, Minsk has sought to reduce its military dependence on Russia, narrowing the scope of cooperation in areas ranging from military training to arms manufacturing.
What remains the same
Despite some positive changes, many things remain the same in Belarus. Foremost, the authorities presided over a fraudulent presidential election in 2015, in keeping with elections past. The Belarusian opposition remains fragmented and has very little influence on Belarusian society, which itself is politically passive.
On 20 January, a local student activist, Hleb Vajkul, was expelled from the Belarusian State University for organising a recent student protest.
In general, it seems that the political elite has lost touch with the everyday needs of Belarusians. When the country experienced a massive snowfall in early January, the government proved woefully unprepared, and locals were forced to devise their own snow removal plans.
Rather than apologise for inadequate public services, the authorities decided to launch a public relations campaign for a "citizen's initiative". The executive committee of Minsk, the capital, sent the city's inhabitants a crude text message urging them to assist in clearing the snow. The state newspaper Belarus Segodnya published a page 1 headline titled Authorities Organise Society Against the Elements. Many ordinary Belarusians view such behaviour by the authorities as cheap posturing.
Opportunity to influence
Changes in Belarus have been precipitated by the onset of the Ukrainian conflict and exacerbated by Russia's economic decline. As people begin to lose faith in Russia's ability to become an economic power, it also becomes more difficult for Belarus to ignore the West and vice versa.
The current situation offers an opportunity for cooperation with the West on a variety of issues, such as stabilizing Ukraine, controlling the flow of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, containing Russia, and perhaps even the democratisation of Belarusian politics and society.
The recent changes may only mark the beginning of a longer process. The coming years represent a crucial juncture during which the Kremlin's influence, in particular as a provider of capital to stabilise the Belarusian economy, is likely to wane further. The question is: will the government in Minsk undertake more ambitious steps to reform the country? If so, how?
There is now a need for a greater presence of the West in Belarus. The European Union and the United States can become not only advocates of potential reforms, but also spur the changes that are already taking place in the country.
Particularly now, it seems important not to reduce Western support for Belarusian civil society. In the near future, strong NGOs may have a window of opportunity to broaden their agenda, even if some of these activities run counter to the preferences of the Lukashenka regime.