European Union Faces A Crisis, Eurasian Union Attracts New States – Belarus State TV Digest
Alexander Lukashenka's participation in the inauguration of Ukraine's elect-president was among the top news items over the last two weeks on state-run Channel 1. Reporters were particularly enthusiastic in pointing out that the Belarusian leader stood out from other politicians present in the event because he received more attention from Western and Ukrainian media than others.
“The Serbian nation is our people, the Belarusian people” – Lukashenka asserted during his recent official visit to Belgrade. In Serbia, he advocated for strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries and commented upon Western politicians inimical attitude towards the meeting of him and president Tomislav Nikolič.
On a few occasions, state TV commented in a positive way about the newly formed Eurasian Union, particularly the huge potential it has and how it has already attracted new states. Journalists also covered the European Union, reporting on the ongoing disagreement among EU member states over who will be the next president of the European Parliament.
Alexander Lukashenka: Territorial Integrity of Ukraine. The Belarusian leader took part in the inauguration of Petro Poroshenko for the Ukrainian presidency. State TV noted that the ceremony had special significance in the context of recent developments within the country.
They noted that although a number of foreign guests took part in the ceremony, the Belarusian leader received a lot of attention from the Western and Ukrainian media. After the ceremony several deputies approached Lukashenka to shake his hand and express their gratitude, journalist enthusiastically noted.
Lukashenka commented upon the future of Ukraine. To the question “What will Ukraine be like?”, he replied: “Ukraine should be one, a united, integrated state”. In his opinion, the country should seek to find an agreement both with Russia and the European Union.
“I hate all intermediaries and peacemakers. I think Ukrainians are a wise people who can deal with the problems on their own”, Lukashenka added. However, he expressed his readiness to help in some capacity. “The main hope of Ukrainians up until this point are related to revival of the country and a belief that it got finally have a chance to develop peacefully”, the Belarusian leader concluded.
"The Situation in Ukraine Remains Tense…" – One State TV Belarusian journalist reported cynically. Although the state authorities have already announced its "peace plan", the conflict is far from being over. Shooting once more erupted in Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Lugansk.
Belarusian state TV journalists also emphasise the need for Russia to take an active role to settle the conflict in Ukraine. Regularly invoking the Russian media, they failed to mention anything from Ukrainian sources. Over the past months Moscow has made two draft resolutions on Ukraine in the UN, "in accordance with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity", as the journalist commented.
Belarus-US: Towards Normalisation of Mutual Relations? Journalist took a note of the consultations carried out by Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Uladzimir Makiej, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of US Department of State, Eric Rubin. They discussed the cooperation in international organisations. At present Minsk and Washington already work together in the sphere of the issues such as global and regional security, reported noted.
Is a Political Crisis Tearing Apart the European Union? Journalists speculated on who is to become the next president of the European Commission. EU member states do not agree on one candidate and that clearly proves that there is a crisis in the Union. Countries such as Germany, Italy, and Spain advocate for Jean-Claude Juncker, a supporter of further integration. However, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Hungary are less keen to support this candidature.
In the aftermath of recent elections to the European Parliament, a new coalition of euro-sceptics can obstruct any further European integration. “Who will be able to overcome the crisis in the integration and stop a rise of the anti-European moods is yet unclear”, reporter pointed out.
Official Visit of Lukashenka to Belgrade: Your People are our People. State TV took note that the economies of both countries are complimentary and have a firm foundation for further development. Belarus remains for Serbia a window to the Eurasian Union, according to the report. Serbia is not against working with the Eurasian Union, although holds the official status of candidate for European Union accession.
Journalists took note of how exceptionally good the relations between both countries remain. “We have always respected the Serbian nation, because the Serbian nation is one with us, the Belarusian nation”, Lukashenka asserted during the meeting of the two heads of state. In his opinion, Western countries have completely diminished or ignored the importance of the meeting between Belarusian and Serbian leaders. “They were ready to do anything possible to disrupt this visit or make it go unnoticed”, he proclaimed at the meeting.
The president of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolič, praised the Belarusian model of economy: “In Serbia, in the aftermath of massive privatisation, many enterprises remained stagnate, and you preserved your economy”, the Serbian president stated.
Belarus-Serbia Relations. Just before Lukashenka’s official visit to Belgrade, the Belarusian leader gave an interview to Serbian state media journalists. “Belarus, through Serbia, can enter the whole market of the Balkans and southern countries of the EU, and Serbia through Belarus can enter the market of the Eurasian Economic Community”, the coverage noted.
Regional Cooperation and Great Potential of the Eurasian Union. The Belarusian leader met with the chairwoman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko, at a regional cooperation forum.
One of the participants, Yevgeny Savchenko, the governor of Belgograd Oblast in Russia, enthusiastically commented upon the Eurasian project’s future: “with our potential, that of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, but also Ukraine, which will join it sooner or later, we can feed half a billion people”. Savchenko also advocated for the expansion of exports into new markets.
Matviyenko also praised the Belarusian leader for his organisation of the Ice Hockey World Championship. She emphasised that in the opinion of experts and the Ice Hockey Federation, the event turned to be the best in the history of the ice hockey tournament.
The Eurasian Union: A New Centre of Power. During the same interview the Belarusian leader also commented upon Belarus-EU relations. “Why should I get offended by the West? I do understand what they want from me and what they want from Belarus. I will never agree to let them be the boss here”, he asserted strongly.
In his opinion, Belarus is maintaining its stability and that it is “much more important than going to the EU and smiling at one another”, he added. The Eurasian Union has become a ‘new centre of power’ and a ‘step to a multi-polarity in world order’. In Lukashenka's opinion, the organisation is attracting more and more countries all the time.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.
How to Make the ESSYB Scholarships More Effective? An OESS Alumnus Perspective
This autumn nearly 200 aspiring students will start their studies at different European universities with the support of the European Scholarship Scheme for Young Belarusians (ESSYB) managed by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
It provided them an excellent EU-funded opportunity to overcome the country's isolation and to build the network of highly qualified and motivated peers interested in democratic and prosperous development of Belarus.
However, growing concerns about effectiveness and transparency of the programme, such as granting scholarships based on the programme platform not available to the public, undermine the credibility of the ESSYB scheme. This article puts forward a few ideas on how to make the scheme a more effective and respected mechanism for promoting democratic changes in the country.
The recommendations include increasing public awareness about existence of the programme, ensuring its transparency and possibly reconsidering the eligibility and selection criteria to better target promising catalysts of positive change.
Critical Engagement to Support Belarusian Youth
After the 2010 presidential election in Belarus and the crackdown on opposition activists and NGOs, the European Commission initiated the Open Europe Scholarship Scheme (OESS) under its policy of critical engagement.
The financial proposal (action fiche) for the programme focused on providing young Belarusians with an education at high-quality universities around Europe to prepare prominent leaders who can significantly contribute to the modernisation and democratisation of Belarus.
The Belarusian government has not accommodated this need to date despite the existing proposals, unlike Russia and Kazakhstan which understood the importance of preparing international specialists at top universities and introduced similar funding programmes such as Bolashak.
The OESS Steering Committee selected 77 aspiring students out of more than 3,600 applicants for the first intake and provided them full scholarships in 2012. The donor agreed to expand funding following the implementation of the first phase and provided nearly $11 million for the second intake of 2014.
The implementer of the programme also rebranded it as the European Scholarship Scheme for Young Belarusians. However, this time the fund received only 395 applications for the total 170 master's degree scholarships available in 2013, meaning that almost every second applicant for a master's degree got a full scholarship.
Recipe for Success: Rewarding Merit and Commitment to Belarus
While other scholarship programmes such as the UK's Chevening, Clarendon or Weidenfeld unite scholars on the basis of academic excellence, professional or leadership potential, the ESSYB scheme does not openly highlight the need to have outstanding achievements in specific fields.
Motivation serves as the main criterion for the selection of candidates, thus making it easier to abuse the scheme by opportunistic applicants. In the absence of any specific requirement to prove a commitment to Belarus through past actions or work, it is not a difficult task to present oneself as a liberal freedom fighter with words alone.
A one-page letter of motivation with kind words about democracy and human rights, not substantiated by relevant previous experience, provides an applicant with a fair chance to land a full scholarship for business or finance studies in Paris or London. This may happen even if the background of such applicants indicates that they are not particularly willing to engage in Belarus-related activities, scholarships aside.
While the commitment to allocate 200 scholarships in one year deserves praise, the potential influence and quality of the subsequent education of scholars can possibly play a more important role than sheer numbers. Degree programmes at the best European universities usually cost more than in the universities of countries neighbouring Belarus, but they also often provide better education, experience and networks.
increase awareness among Belarusian students about the scheme through advertising and public presentations Read more
In addition, the management can make more efforts to increase awareness among Belarusian students about the scheme through advertising and public presentations. In 2013, the application season had a very small window for students to apply, as it opened on 15 November and closed on 8 December.
It effectively lasted less than a month and there was no extensive PR campaign neither in print media nor on the Internet. Many young people, especially outside Minsk, did not even know about this great scholarship opportunity. The number of submitted applications and the eligibility criteria demonstrate that the process could be more competitive and inclusive.
Transparency Issues Undermine Credibility
Currently the implementer bases scholarship decisions on criteria formulated in the programme platform that is not available to the public. In addition, the selection process relies on the pre-screening criteria some of which had been formulated or announced after the application round was closed.
For example, this year selectors automatically rejected several holders of offers for admission to the Master of Public Policy degree at the University of Oxford. The reason lied in having a master's degree from another university, though the ESSYB website did not explicitly forbid such applications as ineligible.
The financial proposal published on the European Parliament’s website stipulated that scholarships should be allocated regardless of previous academic experience to candidates in the age range of 18-26 years old for any level of study.
Nevertheless, the implementer excluded PhD candidates and master’s degree holders from getting scholarships and distributed some of them among individuals with the age as high as 32 years old. Such inconsistencies in making scholarship decisions undermine the credibility of the scheme if they are not backed up by a set of arguments easily available to the public.
establishing clear and transparent eligibility and selection criteria in advance Read more
Taking into consideration the large sums of EU taxpayers’ money involved in funding the project, the implementer may consider establishing clear and transparent eligibility and selection criteria in advance. In addition, making a complete list of previous and current scholarship holders publicly available could help to ensure the transparency of the decisions for stakeholders and the broader Belarusian society.
Towards an Effective Mechanism for Democratic Change
The ESSYB scholarship scheme meets the needs of young Belarusians who are often deprived of an opportunity for quality and unbiased higher education and experience isolation that comes about as a result of Belarus' exclusion from the Bologna Process.
Therefore, it should continue as one of the most relevant and useful EU-funded programmes in Belarus. It provides its beneficiaries an unrivalled opportunity to acquire international experience and expand their knowledge to the benefit of their native country.
To increase the effectiveness of the scholarship scheme, the programme implementer should consider marketing it more extensively in Belarus. It should also consider reviewing its eligibility and selection criteria to support highly qualified young people for whom an additional master's degree or PhD would help to produce more value added for Belarusian society.
prioritise candidates with experience of working for positive change in Belarus and those with significant achievements or potential Read more
The programme administration should also prioritise candidates with experience of working for positive change in Belarus and those with significant achievements or potential. This is where the greatest value of the programme may well lie.
Such requirements would increase the participation of youth in civil society and associated activities aimed at the promotion of reforms in Belarus, as candidates would know that they have to prove their commitment to obtain a scholarship.
In addition, the programme implementer should consider providing scholars with incentives to come back to the home country and publish statistics on how many scholars actually return to Belarus and how much involved they are in Belarus-related activities at home or abroad.
This would increase the level of respect for scholarship holders, largely because the public would see the fact of having an ESSYB scholarship as indicating a set of positive character qualities and a track record of meaningful activities for Belarus. The network of scholars would be stronger, more motivated, professional and united by the common goal of making Belarus a better place to live.