Ignore OSCE, Private Farming, Cooperation with Poland – State Press Digest
A Polish expert advises Belarus to ignore OSCE recommendations, as they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the modern political context. Belarus's new military doctrine shifts its focus from external threats to preventing regime change due to provoked internal conflicts.
President Lukashenka suggests engaging private farmers to save unprofitable collective farms. UNDP and Coca-Cola help Belarus restore one of the largest bogs in Europe. Belarus and Poland agree to increase academic exchange. This and more in the new edition of the State Press Digest.
Belarus should ignore OSCE recommendations – Polish expert. Belarus Segodnia published a comment from Marcin Domagala, director of European Centre for Geopolitical Analysis in Warsaw, who critisized the OSCE recommendations for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Belarus. According to him, the OSCE’s main goal is promotion of the Western European political system. The popularity of this system peaked 20-30 years ago, but European societies are now facing transformations and are focusing on local traditions.
However, the OSCE continues to promote its values and ignores traditions of other countries. The expert sees intolerance of other political systems as a major problem in Europe. The new context requires new modes of cooperation, in which partners change independently rather than forcing each other to adopt certain models. Finally, Domagala advises Belarus to ignore OSCE recommendations.
The new military doctrine focuses on internal threats and defence sector. On 20 July Aliaksandr Lukashenka ratified a new Belarusian military doctrine, reports Soyuznoye Veche. Belarusian authorities claim that it is of a defensive nature as they do not consider any state an enemy. The new doctrine introduces a number of new terms including: military threat, local war, illegal armed group, defence sector of the economy, strategic deterrence and others.
While Belarus faces no direct military threat at the moment, the document does mention other types of threats, such as colour revolutions or international terrorism. The doctrine shifts its focus from external threats to internal ones, and emphasises the prevention of regime change due to provoked internal conflicts. It also highlights the role of the economy in the country's military capabilities as well as the need for a modern high-tech defence industry.
Lukashenka suggests relying on private farmers. Belarus Segodnia highlighted Lukashenka’a visit to the private farm ‘Cna Ecoproducts’. He praised farm owner Uladzimir Adamovič for turning two state farms with huge debt into successful companies. The Belarusian leader noted that state agricultural managers fail to make 25-30% of enterprises profitable, and private farmers can help save them.
“Without a good manager a company will never succeed. Give me a hundred such revolutionaries and we will build a new Belarus. There are good farmers in Belarus, and they should make use of the land”, Lukashenka said. From 1995 to 2015 the total area of privately farmed land increased three times to 187,000 hectares, with an average farm size of 75 hectares. However, private farmers produce only 1,5% of Belarus’ agricultural output, as the government invests heavily in collective state farms while private farmers receive little if any support.
Europe’s major bog restored in Belarus. Scientists from the Institute of Experimental Botany at the National Academy of Sciences have conducted a study and estimate that the economic potential of the Yelnya bog could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. However, as Respublika writes, it first needs to restore the damaged hydrological balance. Yelnya is one of the largest bogs in Europe with a territory of 23 hectares.
The bog contains 450 million cubic metres of drinking water and plays a major role in the local environment. In the 1930s local farmers started to drain it for agricultural purposes, but the resulting dry peat became a constant source of fires. In 2002 more than half of the area of Yelnya burned. However, the situation began to improve after UNDP introduced a programme to restore the bog with support of the Coca-Cola foundation.
Students of professional technical schools lack practical skills. Belarus has inherited the Soviet system of professional technical schools, which aimed to provide professional training as an alternative to theoretical university training. However, Belarusian youth increasingly prefer university education, resulting in a lack of blue collar workers in the economy, writes Narodnaja Hazieta.
Yet the schools’ curriculum contains an excessive number of general subjects that take up too much of students’ time. Technologies change rapidly and schools lack the funds to replace and update equipment. Teachers also need constant re-training, as they have little contact with functioning industries.
Belarusian children swallow recently introduced coins. While banks, shops, and the general population were apparently prepared for the introduction of new money, parents seem to have had more problems. Since 1 July the coins, which appeared in Belarus for the first time since the dissolution of the USSR, became a threat to kids and a challenge for doctors. Around 30 children a day have been visiting hospitals to have coins extracted. Today’s parents grew up in a Belarus without coins and did not even think that they could pose such a threat.
Belarus signs a new agreement on academic exchange with Poland. It includes not only exchange but also internships for both students and teachers, informs Vecherniy Grodno. Belarusians and Poles will have the opportunity to study in Polish and Belarusian universities free of charge and will apply separately from the normal application pool.
A joint meeting of officials from both countries' education ministries will determine the number of students eligible each year. In addition, up to 20 students working on their BA or MA in Belarus will be able to continue their studies in Poland. 10-15 teachers a year will be offered a one month internship.
The agreement also stipulates that both parties will improve the content of school history textbooks. As Belarus and Poland have close historical ties, historians from both countries will jointly work on a correct interpretation of mutual history for textbooks.
The State Press Digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. 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.
#IamNotAfraidToSayIt: Belarusian Women Speak out against Sexual Violence
In July 2016, Belarusian Facebook users showed support for the initiative #IamNotAfraidToSayIt (#янебаюсясказаць in Belarusian). Originally a Facebook post by a Ukrainian journalist against gender-based violence, it quickly grew into a spontaneous online phenomenon which transcended borders.
The campaign addressed the sexual assault, abuse, molestation, and harassment regularly faced by women of all ages in the post-Soviet world.
As well as revealing the extent of gender-based violence, it also highlighted the indifference of Belarusian society to female victims, who are often neglected after traumatising experiences of assault and harassment.
On 5 July 2016, Ukrainian civil society activist Anastasiya Melnychenko wrote a public post on Facebook with the hashtag "IAmNotAfraidToSayIt," in which she shared her views on the lenient attitudes in society towards sexual assault and abuse against women.
Many other women also felt the need to draw attention to the hidden problem of gender-based violence. A Facebook post thus sparked a large-scale phenomenon on social networks across borders, as women in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus joined the initiative.
An unexpected flood of personal stories brought numerous cases of hidden violence against women and children in Belarus to light. These were not usually reflected in official crime statistics.
Almost immediately, this initiative became controversial on social networks. Some criticised women for going public with this topic, arguing that it might re-traumatise victims and open up old wounds among members of its intended audience, who could not always find the strength to speak out publicly about their traumas.
Other reactions revealed that the problems of sexual violence and abuse still remain a taboo in patriarchal post-Soviet societies, which often blame women themselves for the violence. From this angle, appearing in public in a mini-skirt, wearing make-up, or walking alone at night can be interpreted as provocative behaviour.
These stereotypes force victims to feel guilty and suppress their trauma, as a result of which they often choose not to come forward and report offenders. #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt targeted precisely these stereotypes, raising awareness and encouraging women to speak up and stop feeling ashamed. Finally, it helped many victims recognise that they are not alone.
Isolation of victims
#IamNotAfraidToSayIt illustrated that violence and abuse of women remain both invisible and omnipresent in post-Soviet societies. The online campaign also succeeded in highlighting the scope of the problem, especially as official statistics fail to reflect gender violence in full.
For instance, in 2015 the Belarusian Ministry of the Interior reported only 145 criminal cases (or 0.15% of all crimes) of rape or attempted rape. The majority of convicted rapists received prison sentences from 5 to 8 years.
Data on domestic violence in Belarus appears more comprehensive. According to a 2014 assessment by the UNFPA, over 77% of women experienced various forms of violence: physical, psychological, and economic. Over 18% became victims of sexual assault. Yet these numbers reflect only those cases where victims chose to seek help outside.
Current Belarusian legislation lacks clear definitions for sexual harassment and abuse, along with procedures for prosecuting crimes. In 2015, The Belarusian Ministry of the Interior started drafting a law on prevention of domestic violence, yet it still remains in development. At the same time, current Belarusian legislation does not provide full protection of victims of less serious cases of molestation and harassment.
Besides the inadequate legislation, complicated procedures in reporting and proving sexual crimes to the police discourage many women from coming forward and speaking out against offenders. These women are mostly left alone with their traumas.
This is especially common for cases of groping on public transit or sexual assault in the workplace. So far, only one article of the Belarusian Criminal Code addresses sexual harassment, failing to provide clear definitions and guidelines for prosecuting such crimes.
Why does “no” not mean “no”?
Data gathered from a UNFPA sociological survey indicate that in over 86% of cases, men are the ones perpetuating acts of gender violence. This is on par with the level of aggression against women in Russia and Ukraine. The findings also revealed that consumption of alcohol was the leading cause of violence.
Currently, a number of campaigns are attempting to raise public awareness and sensitivity to various forms of violence, similarly to #IamNotAfraidToSayIt. For instance, in 2016 the Belarusian web portal Tut.by put out a series of publications entitled “Home and Violence.” UN agencies also assist Belarusian authorities in implementing initiatives on preventing violence and transforming public views about masculinity. In 2015, they launched the so-called “orange campaign,” focused on prevention of gender-based violence.
As of 2016, 109 crisis rooms for victims of domestic violence operate throughout Belarus. However, this initiative lacks true commitment to protecting victims. For instance, to use these crisis rooms, a woman must report an assault to the police, which prevents many from seeking help there.
Last but not least, the success of these campaigns rests on the readiness of Belarusian society to abandon its condescending attitude towards feminism. Currently, the public perceives it as a movement of militant male-haters, rather than a struggle for basic human rights. In other words, society refuses to rid itself of the gender stereotypes which are the root of the violence .
For instance, in June 2015, the leader of the party Belarusian Christian Democracy Paviel Seviaryniec rashly commented that feminism was a pastime for unhappy people. Even though in practise Belarusian conservatives do not object to female leadership in their ranks, such public statements clearly attest to the longevity of gender stereotypes.
This summer, Belarusian women showed that they will not remain silent about crime, no matter how traumatic and psychologically difficult it is for them. It is up to the state to respond to them with the same level of trust and support.
Besides amending the legislation, Belarus needs an effective long-term strategy to guarantee greater protection against all forms of violent behaviour. In particular, it should introduce comprehensive education strategies to promote a change in the people's mentality.