Lukashenka's Climbing Ratings, Coding Wunderkind, and Blue Potatoes - Western Press Digest

Minsk

Lukashenka's popularity rises as the conflict in east Ukraine shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Belarus may stand to benefit from Russia's sanctions against EU agricultural goods, though the Belarusian government has agreed not to re-sell sanctioned EU goods to Russia.

Belarusian scientists have bred a blue potato, with plans for pink and purple potatoes to follow in the near future. An 18 year old Belarusian took first place at an annual coding competition at Google, defeating an international group of competitors.

Activists are gaining notoriety for a new petition aimed at stopping the opening of a new Russian-funded nuclear power plant in Belarus which they say could be the next Chernobyl. All of this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.

Politics and Economics

Lukashenka’s Ratings Climb as Crisis Continues in UkraineThe Guardian reports that the Belarusian head of state, who has ruled the former soviet republic for 20 years now, has seen his approval rating climb as weary Belarusians watch the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The role of Russian media, a mainstay in most Belarusian households, has had a great deal of influence on the Belarusian public’s opinion about the EuroMaidan protests. According to a survey done by the Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, 63.2% of Belarusians do not support the movement and over half believe that the new government in Kyiv is a fascist regime.

The absence of any independent media in Belarus limits Belarusians’ access to critical sources. Many Belarusians believe that Russian programming is superior to local Belarusian programming. As a result, public opinion, more oft than not, comes out in favour of the official Kremlin line.

Lukashenka’s role as a stabilising force in Belarus lifted his personal approval rating up to 39.9%. At the same time, more and more Belarusians (54%) oppose forming a union with Russia, whereas a decade prior, a majority had favoured a union.

Russia’s Ban on EU Goods and Belarus’ RoleBelarus and Kazakhstan have agreed to Russia’s demands that neither country will purchase and re-sell banned EU goods to Russia while the sanctions are in place. Belarus sees a silver lining in the newly applied sanctions and believes it stands to significantly increase its exports to Russia for a host of goods that will be subject to the sanctions.

One Belarusian entrepreneur went on record saying that while a formal agreement was signed off on between the three governments, local traders will have little trouble getting goods of EU origin into Russia. One of the easiest ways to fool customs officials is to just change the goods’ paperwork so that it appears that Belarus is its country of origin. The success of these and other schemes will depend on, according to the entrepreneur, how interested Russia really is in keeping the goods from coming in.

Pollute in Belarus, Lose Your Car and Other Oddities Under Lukashenka Arbitrary rulings and laws are by no means a new development in Belarus, but a recent proclamation by the nation’s head of state has the West looking more than a little puzzled.

In a recent blog on the Washington Post web site, Rick Noack takes a look at a few of the stranger ideas to be put forth by the Belarusian leader. Individuals who are found guilty of polluting the environment, according to the blog and the state-run BelTA news agency, may see punishments as harsh as having their personal vehicles confiscated for dumping trash in undesignated places.

The author of the blog also references the infamous Swedish activist-fronted teddy bear drop and the oft-cited ban on clapping as evidence of the nature of the regime. While the teddy bear drop did humiliate Belarus’ air defence forces, the author implies that Lukashenka had a ban placed on teddy bears in the country as a result of the incident (editorial note: no such ban was ever put in place).

Civil Society

Activists Fighting the Opening of the “Next Chernobyl” Belarusian activists have gained the world’s attention recently with their petition against the opening of a nuclear power plant in Belarus. Activists have several grievances about the opening of the new power plant, stating that it has not received proper inspection and that the official assessments of the plant fall far short of international standards.

Activist Tatyana Novikova not only opposed the opening of the plant, but to the use of nuclear energy in general, especially in Belarus, who suffered the most from the Chernobyl catastrophe. As a result of her outspoken views against the plant’s construction, her and her family has been subject to harassment. The plant, officially funded by Russia, would be a major source of energy for Belarus.

The Belarus Free Theatre Still Making Waves in AmericaThe activist theatre troupe, banned from performing in Belarus, has continued to gather the attention of critics and activists alike in the United States.

Following a recent viewing of the documentary film Dangerous Acts, artist and author Marcia G. Yerman discusses the hardships the troupe has faced since the 2010 December election crackdowns. In her article, the author focuses on opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov and how his travails are symbolic for the larger repressive trends that have become commonplace against opposition figures and groups in Lukashenka’s Belarus.

Odds and Ends

18-year old Belarusian Wins Google Coding Contest 26 competitors from all over the world came to Google’s LAX office to compete in the annual challenge, but a young Belarusian, Gennady Korotkevich, dashed the other programmers dreams of winning the competition. This was not the wunderkind’s first run in the competition which has approximately 20,000 programmers vying for the $15,000 prize. As a 17-year old, Korotkevich made it to the finals, but was not eligible to compete because he was under age.

Belarusian Scientists Create Blue, Pink, and Purple Potatoes A nine-year long potato cultivation project has finally come to an end in Belarus, and the results have been eye-opening. As one of the staples of Belarusian traditional cuisine, the new coloured potatoes are looking to boost potato consumption and be used in traditional potato dishes and snack foods.

Devin Ackes is a project coordinator of the Ostrogorski Centre. He is an alumnus of Michigan State University and Columbia University.

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