Ostrogorski Forum 2017, Civil Bologna Committee, security cooperation – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In May 2017, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed why the authorities continue to arrest Belarus's top businessmen, who benefits from the alcoholisation of Belarus, and how Belarus can maintain security cooperation with both Russia and the West.
The Centre is preparing a conference entitled 'Belarus in the new environment: challenges to foreign policy, security, and identity after 2014', to be held on 19 June. The conference will promote the development of professional and respectful dialogue between experts with different political views.
We have also added the Civil Bologna Committee as a new partner of the BelarusPolicy.com database. From now on we will be adding papers on problems with compliance to European standards faced by Belarusian higher education.
Vadzim Smok discusses why the authorities continue to arrest Belarus's top businessmen. Being close to Lukashenka is by no means a guarantee of safety for oligarchs, and many prefer to register their companies and reside abroad. Those who cannot do so must demonstrate their support for the authorities in various ways and never make a misstep.
As the Belarusian state system is dominated by the security services, they spend their time and resources over-zealously pursuing white-collar criminals rather than improving the business environment in the country. This causes serious damage to the investment climate. In the absence of strong rule of law, large businesses continue to depend on patronage networks and informal arrangements with the country's leadership.
Alesia Rudnik analyses who is benefiting from the alcoholisation of Belarus. Belarus is perhaps the world's second booziest nation. Meanwhile, alcohol prices are considerably lower than in neighbouring western countries. Despite the government's attempt to set up a programme for prevention of alcoholism and rehabilitation of alcoholics, Belarus has so far failed to combat heavy drinking.
Moreover, alcohol prices tend to decrease right before elections or during economic crises. Cheap alcohol in Belarus has become a tool to neutralise activism and numb national consciousness. By decreasing alcohol prices, authorities guarantee themselves more loyalty and support.
Siarhei Bohdan argues that Belarus can maintain security cooperation with both Russia and the West. It would behove the Belarusian government to build a more balanced and neutral policy by establishing more diversified partnerships in the security realm. At the same time, Minsk realises the sensitiveness of this issue for Moscow, and agrees to what is most important to the Russian leadership, such as the forthcoming West-2017 exercises.
This, however, does not mean that the Kremlin can dictate whatever it wants. On the contrary, Belarus is reshaping its national security policies and can still persuade Russia to help it with military equipment.
Ostrogorski Forum 2017
On 19 June, the Ostrogorski Centre plans to hold a conference entitled 'Belarus in the new environment: challenges to foreign policy, security, and identity after 2014'. It will focus on three aspects: foreign policy, security, and identity.
The conference will promote the development of professional and respectful dialogue between experts with different political views. Each panel will include speakers from both pro-government and independent communities, with journalists of leading Belarusian mass media sources as moderators.
The conference will be broadcast live. Videos from the conference will be forwarded to stakeholders, including state bodies, media, and civil society organisations. Videos from the 2016 Ostrogorski Forum are available here. To register for the 2017 Forum, please fill in this form.
Comments in the media
Alesia Rudnik discusses the opposition and pro-government youth organisations in Belarus on Polish radio. The number of members of youth organisations in both camps remains a mystery due to their unclear institutional structures. Many people are members only formally. Belarusians do not actively express their civil position, and in this regard young people are no different from the rest of the population. This poses a significant problem for Belarusian civil society.
Siarhei Bohdan argues that maintaining good relations with Kiev is strategically important for the Belarusian government on Polish radio. Belarus seeks to increase trade with Ukraine and is establishing cooperation in various fields: energy (oil supply, electricity), border issues, and military projects (helicopters, missile technology). This proves that there is mutual understanding between Minsk and Kiev and even a tacit alliance at the highest level.
On Polish radio, Igar Gubarevich discusses the effect of Lukashenka's press conference on Chinese journalists. The Belarusian leader organised the event because he is concerned with the low level of Belarusian exports to China and the lack of progress with the Belarusian-Chinese technology park. After the conference, Chinese journalists will prepare pieces for the national and regional media, but this will hardly have any influence on the Chinese leadership.
Ryhor Astapenia discusses on Polish radio why Minsk is keen to develop relations with China. Alexander Lukashenka has repeatedly said that China is one of the poles of global politics, along with the US and Russia. Of these three poles, only China does not conditionalise its relations with political demands. China is ready to cooperate with Minsk on economic and political issues without demanding democratisation or recognition of the Crimea annexation.
On Radio Liberty, Yaraslau Kryvoi discusses how the results of the first round of presidential elections in France were perceived in the UK. Many Brexit supporters see the very likely victory of Macron as a bad sign. On the other hand, they understand that Macron is a pragmatist and will put pragmatic interests above ideology. Traditionally, France is much more interested in its former colonies, and French policy towards Belarus will not change significantly under the new president.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
Implementation of the Roadmap requirements in the draft Code of Education. Belarusian Independent Bologna Committee, 2017.
4th Monitoring Report on Implementation of Belarus Roadmap for Higher Education Reform (Oct 2016-Jan 2017). Belarusian Independent Bologna Committee, 2017.
Yana Ustsinenka. The analysis of reforming higher education policy in Belarus in the period from 2010 to 2016. BIPART, 2017.
Dzmitry Kruk. Monetary policy and financial stability in Belarus: current statе, challenges and prospects. BEROC, 2017.
Uladzimir Paplyka, Halina Kasheuskaya. Public procurement from a single source in the Republic of Belarus: analysis and recommendations. BIPART, 2017.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by emailing us.
The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.
Brain-drain in Belarus: do dreams come true abroad?
According to a report on May 22 by TUT.by, 31.3% of Belarusians would consider moving permanently to another country. The study, conducted by Belarusian Analytical Workroom, surveyed 1,063 people and demonstrates that more and more Belarusians are willing to leave the country.
According to official statistics, Belarus is among the few countries in the Post-Soviet region with more people coming to the country than leaving. Nevertheless, sociologists point to a discrepancy between official statistics and reality.
The economic crisis, political pressure, and stagnation of education are just several reasons Belarusians are leaving the country. Neighbouring countries, however, are trying to attract more Belarusians. For example, on 30 May the Lithuanian newspaper Delfi reported that the amount of IT specialists arriving from Belarus is increasing.
Although they spend large sums on security and defence, the authorities do little to influence Belarusians to stay in their country. The alternative to this is for Belarus to adapt to brain-drain by stimulating an exchange of capital and improving conditions for young specialists.
How Many Belarusians Emigrate?
Belarusians continue to emigrate in search of a better life. The state's official statistical agency, Belstat, reports that around 13,000 Belarusians left the country in 2016. This is 3,000 more people than the year before. Meanwhile, in 2017, emigration has increased even more. In the first two months of this year, 1,839 Belarusians have already moved to Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Turkmenistan.
Despite the fact that the majority of Belarusians emigrate to Russia, many would prefer to move to Europe. Anastasia Barysava, a member of the National Academy of Science, told Thinktanks.by that ‘the flows of economic migrants have been re-directed from Russia to the EU countries’.
At the same time, official statistical information provides a dubious picture of the true number of emigrants. According to Eurostat, Belarusian citizens were among the top-10 countries receiving EU citizenship. Moreover, Rosstat estimates that 83,000 Belarusians immigrated to Russia in 2016. Thus, the real number of Belarusian emigrants remains unclear, especially given the number of illegal residents.
The economic situation in the country is triggering more and more Belarusians to leave. GDP continues to fall and the average salary (currently $377,8) has failed to reach $500 per month, as promised by the Belarusian government. Additionally, authorities continue to think up new taxes, such as the social parasite tax which taxes unemployment.
Why do Belarusian Students Emigrate?
Belarusian students constitute a large portion of emigrants. Due to cultural similarities and the absence of a language barrier, Russia remains the most popular destination for workers, including constructing workers and service-industry employees. The EU, however, attracts more students from Belarus. Despite the fact that Belarus has now joined the Bologna Process, educational flow from the country continues to grow. From 2001 to 2015, the total number of those studying abroad increased fivefold.
It seems that until the principles of the Bologna process are truly implemented, rather than simply formally, brain-drain will continue to grow. However, such changes are unlikely happen given the insignificant achievements of the country as a part of the Bologna process and the position of officials.
On 17 November 2016, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka told the Russian media at a conference: ‘We followed…the Bologna process to some extent…But a time may come when we will sacrifice the quality of our education in order to please the West. They come here and envy us: we have a good education’.
Besides shallow educational achievements, which is reflected in insufficient academic freedom and ideologisation, Belarus discourages a significant amount of students for political reasons. In February-March, during the protests against the social parasites tax, many students fell victim to threats and expulsion.
European countries attract Belarusian students via programmes and scholarships. For instance, Poland offers the Kalinowsky Scholarship to Belarusians and has simplified the process for obtaining the Pole's Card.
UNESCO reports that 37 out of every 10,000 Belarusian students study abroad. In comparison, in Russia the number is 3.4; in Ukraine it is 9.3.
Currently, around 35,000 Belarusians are studying abroad. They also have opportunities to obtain a number of international scholarships, such as German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Swedish Institute's Visby Scholarship, and the Muskie Graduate Fellowship. Meanwhile, Belarus forces students to pay for missed classes and work for the state for at least two years after graduating; this often leads to protests.
Instead of economic reforms, the authorities are offering new taxes and full control over businesses. By wasting money on secret services and military parades, the regime is neglecting to invest in the development of the educational system.
Although Belarusians are less likely to take part in political protests than their neighbours in Ukraine or Russia, a significant amount of demonstrators appear to be young people. Suppression of activists leads to even more Belarusians leaving the country, as happened in 2006 and 2010 when oppositional activists and students protested the elections results.
Political analyst Aliaksandr Klaskoŭski believes that Belarusian youth mainly move to the West as they can't imagine ‘opportunities for self-realisation’ in Belarus, as well as for political reasons, reports gazetaby.com.
Since 1993, Belarus has maintained a system in which scholarship students must stay in Belarus for a certain amount of time to work off their 'debt'; this theoretically works to prevent brain drain. This compulsory work placement often means that students must work in small villages for low salaries. The unfavourable conditions of this two-year repayment scheme forces Belarusians to either pay for their education out of pocket or study abroad.
Belarus would benefit significantly from cooperation with the diaspora. The state, however, has failed to introduce a coherent and constructive policy regarding the diaspora. Successful academics, businessmen, and artists living abroad could promote the country and bring more money into Belarus. At the same time, Lukashenka seems to fear this strategy, as he perceives most representatives of the diaspora as belonging to the opposition.
Stopping the brain drain from Belarus is a challenging task, especially given that neighbouring Lithuania or Poland face many of the same problems, despite the higher quality of life there. Nevertheless, the state could adapt to brain drain. For instance, Belarus could promote the flow of capital from those who have left home by lowering taxes on the transfer of money from abroad, cooperating with the diaspora, and providing more educational opportunities for young Belarusians.