Cycling Boom Reaches Belarusian Cities

On 18 September morning, cycling activists handed out fruits to Minsk residents who travelled to their job or university by bike. In this way they wanted to thank people for their choice and to draw attention to the lack of a cycling environment.

In recent years Belarusian cities have truly flourished with cyclists. According to the estimates of the Belarusian Association of Experts and Surveyors on Transport, currently around 400,000 Minsk dwellers can be called cyclists, and this figure increases 10% annually.

However, urban infrastructure, traffic rules and most importantly official perceptions are unready to face this wave. The authorities see no justification for developing cycling because of finance and health which can be boosted if you start taking this diet pills or even by starting the nutrisystem program but check the nutrisystem reviews to see if this fits you. Although some measures have occurred in recent years, no public policy so far exists to support cyclists.

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Authorities and Civil Society: Cycling Together?

In recent years Belarus, and especially the capital, Minsk, have seen a boom in cycling. The increasing number of cyclists has turned into a whole urban cultural and business trend. As an important transport and traffic element, it has brought a challenge to the authorities, who try to respond to the growing demands of cyclists.

In 2010 the Minsk State Automobile Inspection organisation published “A Concept of Develop​ing the Cycling System in Minsk”. This was created by the Belarusian Association of Experts and Surveyors on Transport. This is a civil association. The concept stated that while many people support the development of urban cycling city infrastructure remains poor. It proposed a plan of adjusting city space for cycling and introducing bike-friendly norms in future urban planning.

Not only the police, but also other executive officials have shown an interest in the development of cycling. In 2013 Minsk mayor Mikalaj Ladućka ordered the creation of a detailed plan to support it by adjusting street infrastructure, creating rental points, a cycling club and other facilities.

However, Ladućka did not fulfil these ambitions as Lukashenka transferred him to a lower position. The new mayor Andrej Šorac does not seem to be too preoccupied with the issue.

Although the government has not fulfilled the Concept of a Cycling System in many aspects, its very appearance has become an important precedent. As Pavel Harbunoŭ, an activist of the Belarusian Cycling Society says, the Concept appeared only as a framework document. It does not set concrete indicators, roles and the responsibilities of state bodies, so one can hardly expect effective implementation.

However, it is important that civil activists and authorities manage to cooperate constructively. Now the cyclists have good reasons to hope that a real cycling policy will appear from the government in the near future.

Cycling Becomes a Part of Urban Culture

A view that a grown-up man should have a car has always been widespread among Belarusian youths, and every schoolboy dreams of a car or at least motorcycle. However, modern urban youth have another perspective on the matter. Being environmentally friendly and having a healthy lifestyle has become crucial for many.

Belarusians use bikes for various reasons. Some consider riding a bike cheaper and healthier than using a car or public transport. For others by combining it with testosterone boosting supplements to keep their body in shape and keeping fit. And for some it became simply a stylish thing, which demonstrates their belonging to urban trends. Young people clearly dominate amongst those who own bicycles, but it has also became popular among the upper class older generation.

In 2011 a group of activists created the Belarusian Cycling Society with the aim of expanding the use of bicycles, developing cycling culture and tourism. In 2013 they also opened the first bike kitchen, a noncommercial bike workshop, where any cyclist can learn to fix their bike and get other related information. It also became a place for civil events dedicated to cycling and urban development.

So far such groups do most of the work in communication with the authorities and lead all advocacy campaigns. Slowly they try to resolve infrastructure, legal, financial and cultural obstacles to the development of cycling. These issues still remain numerous.

What Inhibits Cycling in Belarus

Despite a rather constructive and friendly attitude of the authorities towards the growing cycling community, many problems for cycling and cyclists remain unresolved. Pavel Harbunoŭ sees the main reason for the problems in the lack of a government policy. No one has yet calculated and presented to city bureaucrats how much Minsk will gain from such things like money, health, clean air, road surface. Having no well-grounded reasons for caring about cyclists, officials do not understand why they should improve the cycling environment. So a few serious obstacles for cycling persist.

According to the Belarusian traffic code, a cyclist can only ride on the pavement as riding on the road is prohibited. The police argue that until special cycle lanes are built on the roads, cyclists will remain in danger of accidents. Cyclists have respond that currently dangers exist when they have to manoeuvre among pedestrians, and this will increase when heavier electric bikes spread around the city in the future.

High penalties also remain one of the major problems for cyclists. Besides, they remain an obstacle not only for cyclists, but also for wheelchair users. Belarus introduced zero heights at the intersection of roads and pavements only in 2013. According to the Cycling Development Concept, 500 km of adjusted pavements should have appeared in 2011-2015, but the expected length will only be equal to 100 km.

Finally, cyclists expect that developers should have a deeper involvement in public discussions on new cycle projects. Very often government planners and private developers do not think about cyclist’s needs when designing city space. Cyclists say public discussions could resolve this problem, but developers do not publish information about public discussion or organise them during the project, making any changes impossible.

Already the large cycling community needs to unite and involve new expertise to make their advocacy more effective. Hopefully, their positive experience of cooperation with the authorities will bring more results in the coming years.




What Are the Benefits of Buying Medications Online?

The scene is becoming increasingly common in the U.S.: Consumers are replacing a trip to the corner pharmacy with a click onto the Internet. This is where they find hundreds of websites selling prescription medicines and other health products. Many of these are safe, legal companies that genuinely offer convenience and privacy. They use the same safety measures as more traditional methods for prescribing medicines. Online pharmacies are especially convenient if you live in a rural area, do not drive, or if you are disabled, frail, or homebound. Internet technology also enables you to compare drug prices and shop for bargains. For the most part, consumers can use these services with the same confidence they have in their neighborhood pharmacist. Some of these sites are familiar large pharmacy chains. Others are small, locally owned and operated pharmacies, set up to serve their customers electronically. It is always important to be careful when buying medicines online. When looking for CBD products, you have to make sure that you’re buying from trusted companies like Flora CBD. Some websites sell products that are not FDA-approved. This means they haven’t been checked for safety and effectiveness.

According to Canadian pharmacy buying medicines from sites like this may put your health at risk. You may end up with medicine that isn’t safe to take with other medicines or products that you use. Or the medicine you buy may be contaminated, fake, or outdated. For some people, buying prescription medicines online offers advantages not available from a local pharmacy including: Greater availability of medicines for people confined to their homes, or for those who live far from the pharmacy. The ease of being able to compare many sites to find the best prices and products. Greater convenience and access to a wide variety of products. Whether new legislation will improve oversight of online pharmacies remains to be seen. State medical boards regulate medical practice, while state pharmacy boards oversee pharmacy practice. For orthopedic injuries, you can navigate to this website for treatment.

About a dozen state legislatures have enacted laws to regulate the sale of prescription medicines online, but there have been no confirmed cases in which they have done so. Nowadays, a number of companies are running websites that sell generic medicines, generic copies of drugs, and prescriptions for doctor’s services, with each offering its own prices and safety measures. These companies generally sell only a small number of generic drugs, and the methods they use to rank their products and prices vary by manufacturer. There are also some companies, such as cbdarmour.co.uk, that sell CBD products online which are beneficial for a lot of instances. The most reliable way to avoid scams is to use the caution measures described above.




Buy Weed Edibles Online Legally

The hemp flavoring is the main reason these hemp gummies are so effective. The unique flavors also help people who suffer from food allergies. When a recipe isn’t as delicious as it could be, taste-testing and feedback from others can help to turn it around. When you’re shopping for CBD gummies, it’s always important to pay attention to that tip. It would be best if you pay attention to the natural flavors as well as the hemp flavour. While the CBD and THC gummies are quite similar, it’s possible to pick a product that makes you feel better without completely eliminating your appetite or discomfort. The best gummy with the best CBD effect is Elixii. When they tell you that, it usually means the product won’t make you feel terrible. A lot of the higher-potency CBD products are the same. It can’t be argued that CBD-only products are more powerful. However, the downside is that you cannot be sure of the THC content. These are all good news for people who don’t want to be allergic to marijuana. Cannabis is a perfect partner for CBD products because it has the same effect without getting your stomach upset or vomiting.

The best THC edibles for an elite cannabis enthusiast are created and distributed by a name that comes up in almost every cannabis industry discussion: Vape Wild. A fine line that they walk when they’re cooking up their CBD based products is their maximum THC content. Most of their products are at 6% THC, which can sometimes be low enough to work but sometimes too high. With their product line, they ensure they’re covering all the bases. They make sure that there isn’t any kind of cloying THC taste that could make people feel sick. The other recipe that should be in your mind when trying to decide which CBD product is right for you is this one.

The best CBD gummies on the market are being marketed towards new cannabis consumers. However, there’s little to no info on what to expect from someone who has been smoking for many years. Some of the CBD products in the market are highly expected to be the best on the market. Cannabis users have made a great deal of progress in overcoming their pain since legalizing recreational marijuana. Cannabis withdrawal can sometimes be the worst symptom of all. Some even need to live without their mind for a while. Cannabis users have made a great deal of progress in overcoming their pain since legalizing recreational marijuana. They know how to medicate themselves without suffering from it. Thankfully, they found hemp-flavoured products that actually work. By preparing for the end of their pain, cannabis users can finally relax. You’re not alone if you think the ending of their pain is the point of going on cannabis plant medicine. Being part of the market place is part of the joy and pain relief that cannabis consumers deal with. The best products for the top selling hemp CBD gummies are right here.

Depending on the strain and the time of year, you’ll be going through a long cycle of having to find the right edibles for you. When trying to create a strain of marijuana that is successful for you, try to avoid mixing strong weed varieties. The results will be unpredictable and you won’t be able to get it right the first time around. Instead, follow one of the following rules: Never mix big-buzzed or over-the-top with super-loud strains. You want an individual taste for each strain so that you can get the desired effects, such as mental alertness or relaxation. When you start taking your first spliff or joint, it’s important that you stick to high-potency indica strains to keep your body feeling calm and relaxed. You’ll feel a more sober effect when smoking/vaping a nice bud heavy indica strains. If you’re looking for an alternative to smoking, prefer a bong instead. This provides you with the feeling of smoothness while still remaining discrete. Instead of using a lighter, try to insert a ceramic lighter to give the same effect. The choice is yours.

Give Yourself the Best Education to Become a Better Cannabis Patient

As it is a fun habit to try out a new strain or a new type of weed, it is important to ensure you get proper education. After all, your primary purpose in consuming weed is to experience a fine buzz. However, if you aren’t aware of what to expect, you won’t be ready to engage in the correct technique when you attempt to smoke a potent strain. A marijuana user doesn’t have to take a massive risk when it comes to starting out. This is why it is important to get information about the strain before considering a purchase. When learning about marijuana, research the brands of edibles that are currently available. Additionally, check out the articles on the net that you read, as well as discussions of such topics on social media. You should also get a good education on the effects that are available. You might be able to find a quick answer to your question through various information, but hopefully you can save yourself some time by learning about the different types of edibles that are available, and then experiment with the one you prefer. Another important question is what time you should use weed, and what weed to use. I, personally, prefer to take high quality cannabis while outdoors in the warmer months. However, the most obvious suggestion is to look for whatever type of marijuana is available in your area. Depending on the type of weed that you are using, you’ll need to make sure that you’re not using a weak quality bud. Obviously, if you aren’t experienced in cannabis, you’ll need to find a trustworthy source to experiment with. For your smoking and vaping needs, the good news is that the market has moved forward to provide a plethora of options. The negative is that once you’ve set down your pre-made recipe, you’re locked into it for the rest of your life. If you have a large portion of weed that you’re not sharing with your friends, you’ll be able to spend more time doing other things with your time.




Belarusian medical tourism: dental tourists particularly welcome

Belarus intends to position itself as a well-reputed destination for medical tourism at the Belarus-China forum in Shanghai on 7 November, reports the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Over the last decade, Belarusian private medical centers have won recognition in the post-Soviet space as they are using the latest technology an software including Foresee Medical. According to one consultant, Marina Mastashova from the Sports and Tourism Ministry, medical tourism in Belarus will benefit further from the visa-free travel program.

Uladzislau Androsau, the director of medical tourism operator MedTravelBelarus, told Radio Liberty that about 50,000 “medical tourists” visited Belarus in 2016. This number grew in 2017. Foreign clients frequently visit Belarusian private health-care centres due to the relatively low cost of medical treatment. Dental and cosmetic surgery remain the most popular procedures among foreign tourists, with facelifts and liposuction quickly catching up, a compression garment must be worn for optimal results of your arm liposuction procedure says Dr. Smith.

Polite doctors at a moderate cost

Though officially medical care remains free in Belarus, private medical centres exist on a par with state hospitals. The Belarusian state allows the operation of private medical centres, yet makes them undergo rigorous certification procedures and sanitary controls. When Belarusians encounter long queues, ignorance and bad attitudes in state hospitals, some of them turn to private clinics instead.

Belarusian private clinics offer paid medical services, yet generally provide a better quality and variety of treatments. Long queues seldom form, and doctors remain caring and polite. Belarusian private medical centres accordingly attract both Belarusians and foreign citizens looking for quality treatment and complex surgeries.

While private medicine remains unaffordable for many Belarusians, many foreigners regard it as cheap. Eye operations and products like myday contact lenses for eye care are particularly cheaper. Consequently, a growing number of foreign tourists visit Belarus to obtain treatments excluded from the standard insurance policies. As a result, several big players have emerged on the Belarusian medical market, including such agencies as MedTravelBelarus, Wellness Travel, and Westglamur. The agencies like MedTravelBelarus conclude agreements with private clinics and health-care centres to treat foreign clients. They also provide visa support, lodging and other services for a comfortable stay.

“Tooth tourists”

According to Uladzislau Androsau, many of his clients come from post-Soviet countries. Russians constitute the highest percentage among them. First, they choose Belarusian medical services due to the lower costs. More recently, with decreasing medical costs in Russia, many tourists continued visiting Belarusians medical centres due to their quality.

Belarus medicine

The opening of a state clinic in Belarus. Source: tut.by

Tourists from Ukraine and Kazakhstan make for another important group of clients. The ongoing problems in the Ukrainian and Kazakh healthcare systems, including corruption and poor pharmaceuticals, still bring a number of Ukrainians and Kazakhs to Belarusian doctors.

Medical tourists from the Baltic states, Russian-speaking Israelis, and Belarusian expats also prefer Belarusian medical services due to their affordability. Belarusian expats have already obtained the nickname “tooth tourists” as dental surgery remains the most popular medical service they return home for.

Nevertheless, despite the increasing potential of the Belarusian private medical industry, it remains pretty unknown to audiences outside the post-Soviet region. Clients from other corners of the planet, including Western Europe, visit Belarusian private hospitals much more rarely. As Androsau tells Radio Liberty, it still takes considerable marketing efforts to promote Belarus as a global healthcare hub.

At the same time, certain preconditions have already emerged for the world-wide recognition of Belarusian private medicine. Many Belarusian medical staff speak fluent English. Apart from that, Belarus’s proximity to both European capitals and Russia’s major cities, combined with cheap lodging, also raises the country’s attractiveness as a potential healthcare hub.

The cheapest breast implants in Europe

Belarusian private medical centres offer cheap costs in comparison with the European Union and the majority of post-Soviet states. For instance, while breast-enlargement costs about $3,000 in Belarus, the same procedure costs approximately $5,000 in Lithuania and $7,000 in the UK. While a Belarusian medical centre charges about $2,000 to remove fat with excess skin from the abdomen, a Lithuanian centre charges around $4,000, and a British centre – around $9,000.

The price differences become even starker for dental surgery see it here. For instance, a new dental implant costs about $550 in Belarus, and the same implant costs about $2,500 in the United States. While a Belarusian dental centre charges about €500 for one particular Swiss dental implant, a Polish dental centre charges no less than €800. In the UK the price reaches €1,400. Similar price differences remain in cardiology and ophthalmology.

The most popular private medical services offer dental and cosmetic surgery, mostly tooth and breast implants, as most of the standard insurance policies fail to cover them. Facelifts, liposuctions, and hip and knee replacements also remain in demand among foreign clients. In addition, Belarusian private medical centres offer different services in the fields of cardiology, gynaecology, oncology, ophthalmology, traumatology, neurosurgery and rehabilitation.

Comparative costs of popular surgeries.

What about ordinary Belarusians?

As the Belarusian medical tourism industry grows, the state has also joined the marketing efforts to promote Belarus as a global healthcare hub. For instance, the Belarusian Ministry of Health has recently held talks with China’s National Health Commission to initiate the program to treat Chinese children in Belarus. The first group of children arrived for rehabilitation procedures in September.

At the same time, the flourishing of Belarusian private medicine clearly signals problems in state medicine. For many Belarusian doctors getting a job in a private clinic remains the most desirable career path. The salaries in private medicine substantially exceed those in state medical practices. According to Sputnik and Radio Liberty, a state doctor’s average salary reaches close to $500 per month, yet an inexperienced doctor might receive a very modest $250. On the other hand, salaries in private clinics start at $800 – 1,000.

Poor salaries keep nurses and doctors unsatisfied with the job and drive many of them to Belarusian private clinics or even abroad. The quality services of private clinics, such as dental surgery, remain unaffordable to many Belarusians, including pensioners. Hence, they have to rely on state clinics with their long queues, stressed doctors and the lack of quality pharmaceuticals. In this way, the Belarusian medicine illustrates the growing trend of social inequality: brilliant medical services for the rich and below-average services to the poor.




Common history that divides Belarus and Lithuania

On 28 January, Vilnius hosted a performance of the Belarusian ballet Vitaut (Vytautas in Lithuanian). The performance has courted controversy, with the Lithuanian culture minister describing it as a provocation six months ago.

The ballet shows how joint heritage, instead of uniting the two countries, actually divides them and puts Lithuania on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, it would like Belarus to transform into a Western democracy. But on the other hand, it recognizes that the Western identity of Belarus challenges Lithuania’s own identity since it requires both countries to draw on the same historical heritage.

Common heritage as the curse

Western historiography mainly looks at the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) similarly to how Alexander Lukashenka did a couple of decades ago. For many Westerners, in line with this interpretation, the Grand Duchy is a Baltic country. However, in reality, it was an alliance of Balts and Slavs, where the Slavs and their language dominated. For example, Lithuanian Statutes were written in Ruthenian; the language Belarusians often depict as the old Belarusian language.

With the passing years the history of the Grand Duchy becomes less exclusively linked to today’s Lithuania, either in the West or in Belarus. In 2012, Norman Davies, possibly the most well-known researcher of Eastern European history, published his book Vanished Kingdoms, where the chapter on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania opens with a photo of Lukashenka.

Monument to the Lithuanian Grand Duke Alhierd in Vitsebsk (photo: Shutterstock)

Recently, Belarus’s authoritarian leader has showed increasing enthusiasm about the Grand Duchy. In 2017, while discussing school textbooks, he argued that “Belarus needs to introduce into the minds of our people the truth: that Belarus started its history from the states of Polatsk and the GDL.” On 20 January, the commander of the Belarusian interior troops said that even the army now studies the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Many Belarusians enjoy joking that Vilnius belongs to them (as, too, do Poles). It’s no wonder that few Lithuanians find such jokes funny. They feel that Belarus is like a brother about whom no one knew, but he appeared at the moment a deceased grandmother’s estate was being shared out. Moreover, now the brother comes to Vilnius and starts to teach you the family history.

The ballet that separates

Back in September 2017, nearly six months before the performance, Lithuania’s minister of culture, Liana Ruokytė-Jonsson, described the staging of the Belarusian ballet Vitaut as “a demonstration of soft power and a provocation.” The Lithuanian authorities seem worried about the ballet’s dedication to the centenary of Lithuanian independence, and the fact that the Belarusian organisers had not consulted with them about this. The Belarusian embassy in Lithuania immediately responded to Ruokytė-Jonsson on Twitter saying that “the local fashion of absurdity has no boundaries.”

Lithuanian media occasionally write that “Lukashenka has set his sights on the pride of Lithuania” or “The day when Belarusians will say ‘Vilnius is ours’ is coming.” Quite naturally, these ‘clickbait’ headlines bring traffic to websites, but damage mutual understanding between the two peoples, which has implications for policy-making.

For instance, the Lithuanian authorities seem to fear excessive collaboration with Belarus-centric organisations. The European Humanities University, a Belarusian institute exiled to Vilnius, serves as the most famous example. It receives assistance from a number of international donors, including Lithuania, and almost everyone in the Belarusian civil society remains dissatisfied with the work of the EHU. In 2014, 40 Belarusian intellectuals, including Nobel prize winner Sviatlana Alieksijevich, wrote an open letter in support of preserving the EHU’s Belarusian heart.

The EHU spends at least $150,000 on the annual salary of the rector, despite its provision of a low-quality education. In December 2017, Lithuania’s Centre for Quality Assessment in Higher Education negatively evaluated the EHU and the Lithuanian Ministry of Education will deprive it of its licence by the end of 2018. But the Lithuanian authorities continue to support Professor Anatol Michajlaū, former rector and current president of the EHU. Insiders attribute this to Michajlaū’s promotion of a non-Belarus-centric vision of Belarus, which Lithuanians do not perceive as competition. 

Disputes around historical heritage also intensify other conflicts, especially the controversy surrounding the Belarusian nuclear power plant. The station, which Belarus began building 55 km from Vilnius in 2013, has become a major stumbling block in bilateral relations, since Lithuania sees it as dangerous for its own security. According to a Belarusian public activist, “If the Lithuanians feel that you do not share their opinion about the Belarusian nuclear power plant, then you are a Russian agent.” Two-thirds of Lithuanians perceived Astraviec power plant as a threat, according to Lithuanian polling agency RAIT. According to another pollster, Spinter, only 6.5% of Lithuanians considered Belarus a friendly country in 2014.

Lithuania’s dilemma

On the one hand, Lithuania feels it should strengthen Belarusian identity in order to acquire a friendly European neighbour. Promoting common heroes such as Vitaut undoubtedly helps to that end.

On the other hand, the strengthening of the Belarusian identity may lead to sharing the history that Lithuania long considered exclusively its. Things became more complicated as both nations are small and long for a strong simple identity.

A dialogue on the two states’ common history might help to build a shared vision of the GDL, but conflicts and misunderstandings such as the one over the nuclear power plant, sow distrust. Previously such dialogue took place during the International Congress of Belarusian Studies that was held annually in Kaunas, Lithuania. However, in 2017 the Congress moved to Warsaw and this year it will take place in Minsk. So, currently it remains impossible to speak about any kind of joint textbook or other historical projects. 

Rather, the countries will develop with their own internal inertias. Belarus will rediscover its history, while Lithuania will feel that its history is being stolen. It remains unlikely that it will bring any positive fruits for cooperation between the countries.




Belarus’s immigration policy: perpetuating a demographic crisis?

On 8 November, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka met with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Lukashenka mentioned that the number of  Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Belarus since 2014 has reached 150,000.

Over the past 20 years, the population of Belarus has decreased by more than 600,000 people. At a security meeting on demographics in August, President Lukashenka set a target to increase Belarus’s population to 15 million.

In the context of low birth and high death rates, the Belarusian population can only grow due to an increased number of immigrants. However, Belarus still has no clear policy to encourage labour migration. Moreover, bureaucratic procedures, such as work permits, remain difficult to obtain for the majority of foreigners apart from citizens of CIS member countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine), especially Russians, which have special conditions for working in Belarus. 

Labor migration: Ukrainian factor does not work anymore

Lukashenka stated that more than 150,000 Ukrainians have come to Belarus since the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine. This figure significantly differs from Internal Affairs Ministry statistics, which report about 42,000 refugees from Ukraine in the period 2014–2017.

The war in Eastern Ukraine indeed contributed to a growth in labour migration in Belarus, but not all Ukrainians who moved to Belarus stayed for long.

Ukrainian labour migrants coming to Belarus. Source: uainfo.com

“The situation with work in Belarus itself is quite sad: Belarusians lose jobs [or] take pay cuts from a salary that is already very small,” writes Ukrainian website Workland, which helps Ukrainians to find jobs abroad.

Workland reports that in Belarus it remains easy to get agriculture-related work, but there is almost no chance of finding an office position. The best that a Ukrainian immigrant can expect in Belarus is €150–200 per month.

Therefore, current conditions in Belarus are unlikely to bring large numbers of labour immigrants from Ukraine to Belarus. Indeed, now that Ukrainians have received visa-free travel to EU countries, they are even less likely to come.  In the past year, Belarus has experienced a reduction in the number of immigrants—21,038 comparing to 28,349 people in 2015. The number of tourist visitors from Ukraine has also decreased by half from 10,000 in 2015 to 5,000 in 2016. Go ahead and check my site to find more information about the best law firm near you.

Receiving a work permit in Belarus

Every year thousands of foreigners arrive in Belarus in search of work. Most of them come from China, Ukraine, Russia, and Uzbekistan. In the first quarter of 2017, 4,369 labour migrants came to Belarus, according to official statistics. So far, the vast majority (almost 80 per cent) of immigrants in Belarus are employed as labourers. At the moment more than 20,000 foreigners have the right to work in Belarus.

Enticing highly skilled employees to Belarus remains difficult. Anastasia Babrova at the Institute of Economics of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences lists a number of constraints. In previous years, a law on labour migration limited employment possibilities for foreigners in Belarus. However, in 2010 the government liberalised the law, which simplified the employment of foreigners in Belarus. In 2016, authorities revised the law again, increasing bureaucratic involvement in the work permit process. However, go ahead and learn more here about the most important laws about immigration.

Rules for receiving work permits in Belarus vary depending on a person’s country of origin and occupation. According to the law on external labour migration, foreigners willing to work in Belarus need to receive ‘special permission’ approved by an executive committee and the police. From 2014–2015, the number of rejections of ‘special permissions’ decreased by 21 per cent, reports lastrada.by, the Belarusian arm of an international anti-human trafficking network.

Russian-Belarusian border. Source: bbc.com

Receiving ‘special permission’ remains the most difficult step for foreigners. They need to possess five years of experience in the relevant field. Moreover, a Belarusian employer needs to pay at least $1,500 salary to the highly qualified foreigner. “This appears as a high threshold, taking into account the fact that the average salary in Belarus barely reaches $500,” said Babrova in an interview with Naviny.by, a news website.

Russian citizens face the least paperwork when it comes to labour immigration to Belarus. They receive a right to work in Belarus by registering in the population register within 90 days after arrival. Moreover, a Belarusian employee pays a regular salary to Russian citizens comparing to $1500 for other foreigners.

Belarus’s Migration policy supports citizens of particular countries. Different rules apply to citizens of Russia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Foreigners coming from these countries can work without special permission. The Eurasian Economic Union agreement (signed May 2014) created guidelines for granting CIS citizens the right to work in Belarus.

How to improve migration?

Conditions surrounding labour immigration to Belarus vary significantly depending on the country of origin. CIS countries have many favourable conditions for employment in Belarus compared with foreigners from other countries. The law remains even more welcoming for Russian citizens, who just need to register as a resident when they arrive.

However, to provide a migration gain in circumstances of growing emigration, the Belarusian government needs to review the policy on foreign labour migration. It seems overly optimistic to assume that qualified labour immigrants will choose to move to Belarus without additional incentives.

The most necessary policy changes are the simplification of employment procedures for foreigners outside the CIS area and the lowering of the obligatory $1500 salary for immigrants to a more equal level with Belarusian salaries.

Additionally, Ideaby.org, a media platform created by young professionals who promote smart large-scale reforms in Belarus, notes that Belarus lacks accommodation even for its own citizens. This suggests the building of new living areas would also be needed to improve conditions for immigrants.

Another incentive could be ‘the Belarusian card,’ which would encourage the return of Belarusians to Belarus who also have citizenship of other countries. So far, it seems that the authorities are trying to patch the demographic hole with labour migrants. However, Belarus has an immigration policy that favours a select few countries, instead of liberalising the law and opening its doors to a more inclusive group of foreigners.




Censorship of music: who gets to sing in Belarus?

On 2 November, Belarusian bard musician Zmicer Vajciuškievič had a 25th-anniversary concert in Minsk. Before that, he had been unable to perform in Belarus in public for many years. Along with some other musicians, he became a part of the blacklist of “politically inappropriate musicians.”

While the particular reasons for banning a musical show in Belarus change from event to event, the possibility of concerts taking place unchangeably depends on the authorities.

The official motivation of concerts’ cancellation often refers to extremism, the “low quality of lyrics,” or logistical obstacles such as overlaps with other events. Although excuses vary, there exists a clear pattern: Belarusian authorities attempt to restrain musicians for social and political reasons.

While Belarusian musicians face strong censorship, many pop-stars refusing to admit Belarusian national identity and statehood continue to perform in Belarus. Despite a few positive changes, so far authorisation for public musical performances and shows in Belarus remain a field controlled by the regime.

Black-listed-musicians: who and why?

Siarhei Mikhalok. Source: novychas.by

Already in 2000s, the authorities had restricted public performance rights for several famous Belarusian musicians. Liavon Volski who demonstrated clear opposition to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka and his regime became one of them in 2004. Such artists as Siarhei Mikhalok and Zmicer Vajciuškievič have faced bans and restrictions on performing on Belarusian stages. An unofficial black-list of Belarusian musicians has recently included more artists such as Vinsent and the band Dzieciuki.

In most cases, musicians face obstacles in form of last-minute cancellations and shows being called off for unclear reasons. For example, the band Dzeciuki had been trying do a gig in Minsk for 2016. At first, the club refused to host the concert. Next, the ideological department of the Executive Committee in Minsk asked to send them the lyrics of the songs. The Executive Committee then issued a statement for an official cancellation of the band’s concert. They had concluded the band’s lyrics were of “low quality,” and thus the band was not given permission to perform.

This happens to Belarusian musicians directly or indirectly opposing to the regime. It is especially topical for rock musicians, because rock music in Belarus often translates protest of society against the state. Rock artists, such as Siarhei Mikhalok, who is famous as the frontman for bands Liapis Trubeckoj and Brutto, live and perform abroad.

Indeed, Siarhei Mikhalok faced a pressure after insulting Lukashenka in an interview to 1tvnet, an online news portal. Mikhalok said Lukashenka “initiated a genocide against the Belarusian people” and that Lukashenka ”hates the Belarusian people.” After the interview, Mikhalok had to leave the country for several years.

Only in 2016 was Mikhalok able to return to Belarus, performing in Homiel and then in Minsk. However, until now his second band, Brutto, meets constant restrictions on songs and places to perform.

Although the reasons and explanations by authorities for banning musicians vary, the scenario of blacklisting looks the same. The local authorities cancel concerts at the last minute. It happened with Belarusian singer Vinsent when authorities banned his concert at Minsk-Arena in 2016. In September 2017, the leader of the band Dzieciuki faced being blacklisted when he tried to receive a permission to perform in Minsk with his solo project.

After expressing a political or social position that opposes preferences of the officials, musicians can become blacklisted. Vital Hurkou, the world famous sportsmen from Belarus, lost financial support from the Ministry of Sports for a collaboration with Brutto. In 2014, the band Amaroka was refused the right to perform after authorities deemed the songs to be extremist. TuzinFM, a Belarusian video-driven music website, believes the authorities at present have blacklisted four musicians.

Doubtful pop-stars in Belarus

While officials aim to prevent anti-regime singers from performing, they pay little attention to the people denying Belarusian nationhood and statehood who come to sing from abroad. Recently, Viktor Kalina, who supported separatists in Ukraine and posed with weapons on occupied territories in Ukraine, had a tour in Belarus. Ukrainian authorities have already put Kalina on a list of people dangerous for national security, because of his close ties with the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Despite this, Kalina received permission from the Belarusian authorities to perform.

Viktor Kalina. Sourse: belsat.eu

Indeed, his concerts in the Belarus often receive support of the local authorities, who help to distribute tickets in towns like Vitsebsk and Brest.

Civil society activists have protested Kalina’s concerts. In October, Vitsebsk and Brest activists sent an appeal to the authorities demanding cancellation of Kalina’s November performances in the largest Belarusian towns. This prompted Kalina to write a letter to President Lukashenka with a request to protect him from Belarusian nationalists.

Civil activists’ efforts are not always in vain. Two years ago, local authorities positively reacted to a letter from activists and banned one of Kalina’s concerts. However, most recently authorities appear reluctant to forbid Kalina from touring. After a concert in Hrodna on 4 November, the singer posted on VKontakte, a Russian-language version of the social networking site Facebook, saying that his concert was successful despite the “animals” who tried to cancel it, reports Belarusian Partisan.

In addition to musicians, Belarusian authorities rarely prevent visits of pro-Russian artists, who believe in the idea that all the Russian-speaking territories should belong to Russia. On 25 November 2016, Russian propagandist Vladimir Soloviev, who became famous for his open pro-Putin and imperialistic views, came to Minsk to give a book reading. Despite protests and appeals of Belarusians, he managed to perform in Minsk. So far, it seems pro-Russian imperialism looks less dangerous to the authorities than music critical of the Belarusian government.

Why Belarusian authorities censor music?

Raper Face. Source: hrodna.life

Raper Face. Source: hrodna.life

The logic behind the motivations of Belarusian authorities to ban concerts remains hard to understand. In October, authorities forbid Russian rapper FACE to perform in Belarus. After submitting song lyrics to the Executive Committee, authorities refused to allow his concert.

FACE’s songs contain much swearing, stories about drug abuse, and stimatisation of certain groups of people. A month before his slated performance, Belarusian musician Dzianisau, who based his songs on Belarusian poems written by Ales Chobat (a member of the Belarusian Writers Union), also received refusal to perform in Minsk for allegedly writing “low quality lyrics.” While Belarusian musicians of varying success fight for their rights of freedom of expression, Belarusian society attempts to confront imperialist adepts like Viktor Kalina.

During the last years, Belarusian musicians with the help of the public have been gradually receiving more freedom of expression without censorship. Consistently, the most difficult time for musicians to perform are the pre-election months during the presidential campaigns, for example in 2010 and 2015. It also seems that the authorities see less threat in musicians during the middle of the electoral cycle. Fewer musicians tend to be blacklisted, and officials allow more concerts and put less censorship on Belarusian musicians.

However, the authorities hold an administrative resource in their hands with which they can get rid of “politically inappropriate” musicians wherever they want. It becomes especially topical on the eve of elections when the regime demonstrates its power. It appears that music in Belarus is not so much the sphere of culture and business, but more the sphere of ideology and politics.




2018 EaP Summit, October Economic Forum, limits to Belarus’s sovereignty – digest of Belarusian analytics

Jury Drakachrust ponders upon reasons and consequences of the invitation of Aliaksandr Lukashenka to attend the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on 24 November, while Dzianis Mieljancoŭ analyses benefits of the Summit for Lukashenka.

Belarus Security Blog argues that Belarus is working hard to establish itself as an independent actor in regional security matters, despite sсepticism from the West and Ukraine.

IPM Research Centre assures that despite the fact that the authorities ceased negotiations with the IMF, they did not stop the reforms.

Belarus in Focus experts observe that before the local election campaign, the Belarusian authorities are becoming more sensitive to local civic initiatives and opinions of the expert community about the information policy and national security issues.

This and more in the new edition of the digest of Belarusian analytics.

2018 EaP Summit

Lukashenka Receives an Invitation to Brussels – Grigory Ioffe analyses the media reaction to the fact that Brussels extended an invitation to Alexander Lukashenka to participate in the 25 November summit of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP). The experts believe that in any case, there is a chance the EU initiative may start a new chapter in Europe’s relationship with Belarus.

 Lukashenka, For the First Time, Formally Invited to the EaP Summit – Sources report, that the EU extended a formal invitation to Aliaksandr Lukashenka to attend the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on 24 November. Jury Drakachrust ponders upon reasons and consequences of the invitation, while Dzianis Mieljancoŭ analyses benefits of the Summit for Lukashenka. TUT.by interviews experts to identify scenarios of Lukashenka’s participation in Brussels.

Minsk Dialogue: Prospects of EaP Ahead of the Brussels Summit – Minsk Dialogue presents a report based on an expert discussion before the Future of Eastern Partnership conference that took place on 7 September 2017. The report provides an overview of the history of EaP, analyses positions of key stakeholders and provides for scenarios of EaP future and its meaning for Belarus.

Security

Minsk Is Trying to Establish Itself as an Equal Subject in Security Matters – Belarus Security Blog argues that Belarus is working hard to establish itself as an independent actor in regional security matters, despite scepticism from the West and Ukraine. Strengthening of security-related ties with China is deemed to be evidence of that.

Картинки по запросу парад независимости минск 2017

Photo: tut.by

Zapad 2017: Did Belarus Lose the Information War? – Dzianis Mieljancoŭ, Minsk Dialogue, analyses the materials of the Western media and debunks the assertion of some Belarusian analysts and journalists about the ‘lost information war’. In particular, a statement that Belarus’ participation in joint military exercises with Russia had a negative impact on the international image of Belarus is not supported by the facts.

What Are the Limits to Belarus’s Sovereignty? – Grigory Ioffe sums up a wide-ranging debate about the nature and geopolitical realities of Belarusian statehood and independence inspired by the joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 war games. The analyst also mentions two facts – the Catholic conference in Minsk and registration of the Albaruthenia University office – that seemingly extend the limits of Belarus’s sovereignty.

Economy

“Because I Decided So.” Rules Underlying the Decisions in the Belarusian Economy – Kiryl Rudy, former assistant to the president for Economic Affairs, explains what social characteristics can change the rules of behavior in the economy, form a community, a risk appetite, long-term planning, switch on rational laws and lead the economy to a global highway of ‘one hundred years growth’. The article is timed to KEF 2017.

Towards the ‘Minsk Consensus’: Some Personal Reflections – Ben Slay, UNDP senior advisor, considers what the ‘Minsk Consensus’ is (or might be), and how it may be of broader use. Namely, rather than laying claims to overarching development paradigms or one-size-fits-all solutions, Belarus’s experience points to the need for pragmatic combinations of private- and public-sector governance reforms.

Unexpected Growth, Unsold Reforms and Optimism in Belarusian – Aliaksandr Čubryk, IPM Research Centre, suggests some statements on the eve of the Kastryčnicki/October Economic Forum, KEF 2017, which was held on 2-3 November in Minsk. The expert, in particular, assures that despite the fact that the authorities ceased negotiations with the IMF, they did not stop the reforms.

Belarusian Economic Review, Q2 2017 – Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC) rolls out fresh quarterly economic review. In particular, consumption continues to grow; import surpasses export; monetary policy stimulates; real exchange rate reached 5-year minimum; real salaries slowly grow while available income continues to shrink.

Wargaming workers in Minsk. Photo: New York Times

How Europe’s Last Dictatorship Became a Tech Hub – Ivan Nechepurenko, The New York Times, studies the growing trend of turning Belarus into a tech hub. More than 30,000 tech specialists now work in Minsk, many of them creating mobile apps that are used by more than a billion people in 193 countries. Lukashenka began to believe that the tech industry could become a magic wand to help him end the country’s chronic dependency on Russia.

Civil society

Andrej Jahoraŭ: Belarus Leads an Authoritarian Revenge in the Region – There is a clear crisis of democracy, while human rights in Belarus are in a blockade. At the same time, the European-Belarusian relations are now enveloped in a continuous mythology, according to the director of the Centre for European Transformation, Andrej Jahoraŭ. The analyst is confident that in its current state the civil society cannot influence the EU policy.

Civil Society Has Bearing On Agenda of Belarusian Authorities – Belarus in Focus considers a case of a public campaign that has raised the attention to the situation around the death of a conscript soldier in the army. The experts conclude that civic initiatives, through social networks and the Internet, are beginning to outstrip state ideologists with traditional media and have a greater impact on public opinion.

Impact of Civic Initiatives on Local Agendas and Cultural Information Policy Has Increased – Belarus in Focus experts observe that before the local election campaign, the Belarusian authorities are becoming more sensitive to local civic initiatives and opinions of the expert community about the information policy and national security issues. Although, the authorities’ decisions are likely to remain half-hearted and criticised by civil society representatives.

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.




Forsaking Private Korzhych: how hazing kills Belarusian soldiers

On 3 October 2017, a soldier from a military base located in Pechy, a town northeast of Minsk, died. The day after, fellow servicemen found Aleksandr Korzhych, a 21-year-old Belarusian, lynched in a noose made from trouser material. His wrists were tied with shoelaces and a sleeveless shirt covered his head and face. The public, along with Korzhych’s parents, believe Korzhych had been the victim of bullying and murder.

In the days following the discovery of the soldier’s body, more than 10 thousand Belarusians signed a petition calling for an official investigation and for the dismissal of the Minister of Defence, Andrei Raukou.

Public solidarity has forced the authorities, who initially insisted the soldier’s death had been suicide, to change their position on the issue. They are now promising a thorough investigation.

These unhappy events have demonstrated, once again, Belarusian authorities seem only respond to pressure. However, they still try to maintain a balance between displays of power and attempts to soothe public opinion.

What happened in Pechy?

On 4 October, military personnel found Korzhych’s body in the basement of an army base in the town of Pechy. The first investigative committee decided the cause of death was suicide by hanging. Korzhych’s parents claim their son’s body was heavily bruised and showed signs of beatings.

Alexandr Korzhych. Source: svaboda.org

Aleksandr’s parents believed their son was murdered. They sent photos of their son’s body to Radio Liberty, where traces of trauma and violence were clearly visible.

It emerged that the soldier’s whereabouts from 26 September to 3 October were unknown. These facts, among others,  prompted Aleksandr’s parents to demand a fair investigation.

Some facts indicate that Korzhych became the victim of extortion. Aleksandr himself admitted to his parents he had to pay €7 a-day to stop other soldiers from beating and bullying him.

Along with the money, which he asked his parents to send, his expensive phone also disappeared. Korzhych complained the hazing and extortion originated from the base’s commanding officers. Evidence has recently emerged that an officer at the base had withdrawn money from Korzhych’s bank card.

A strong public reaction to hazing

As more details of Korzhych’s death came to light, many citizens actively expressed their outrage. More than 10 thousand signatures were collected calling for the resignation of Defence Minister Andrei Raukou. Shortly after, the webpage collecting the signatures was shutdown at the request of the Defence Ministry. The petition, officials complained, was an attempt to discredit the Ministry of Defence.

The Defence Ministry then took the time to send letters to those who had signed the petition, asking them to confirm whether they had, indeed, signed it. On 26 October, The ministry issued an official statement in reaction to numerous electronic appeals, while at the same time ignoring the demands for Raukou’s resignation.

Ivan Shyla during his military service. Source: nn.by

Some well-known young Belarusians, such as Frantsishak Viachorka and Ivan Shyla, shared their military service experiences on their Facebook pages.

Despite the buzz around the death of Korzhych, his ordeal does not appear to be the first of its kind. In March, Private Arciom Baysciuk apparently committed suicide after complaining to his family of extreme hazing and bullying. An investigation into his death has produced few results.

Baysciuk’s parents suspect their son’s death was closely linked to hazing. Human rights activists believe a culture of hazing remains the most negative aspect of the Belarusian military.

The authorities remain reluctant to take real responsibility

At first, the authorities were slow to react. On 12 October, the Defence Ministry promised an investigation into the death of Korzhych and punishment for the perpetrators. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka gave his condolences to Korzhych’s family ten days after the soldier’s death. So far, five officers, including the army base’s head, have been suspended. In addition, the investigative committee has initiated eight criminal cases against sergeants at the base. After this slew of indictments, the authorities’ response seems somewhat overzealous.

However, the Defence Ministry’s and investigative committee’s reactions are arguably defensive in nature. On 5 October, they called the soldier’s untimely death “a suicide.” As more facts emerged and the public became incredulous, the cause of death switched to acts of hazing and bullying. Indeed, the government fired several high-ranking officials at the military base without any investigation. By 25 October, as the public’s attention appeared to be starting to shift, the investigative committee stated that besides the lacerations from the noose, Korzhych’s bruises appeared after his death. This appears to be a stratagem to calm the public, rather than an effort to solve a case. 

Photo by Siarhei Hudzilin who served in Barysau. Source: nn.by

Belarusian authorities tend to respond to public concern when it touches upon sensitive issues, especially if it involves many people connected to the state. For example, when the Kurapaty campaign was accompanied by protests and online-petitions, it pushed the authorities to cancel the construction project atop the historical site. And again, it was the protests of angry Belarusians that caused the suspension of the hated unemployment tax.

While the authorities may be willing to compromise on socio-economic issues, they continue to violate the rights citizens in other areas. Recently, authorities have put pressure on anarchists.

On 31 October 2017, the KGB, Belarus’s national intelligence agency, arrested activist Mikalai Statkevich for the sixth time this year. His arrest comes a week after his participation in street protests against Belarusian social and economic policies. At the demonstrations, the hazing of Belarusian soldiers became one of the central issues raised. It appears involvement in politics is still the most arrestable offence for a Belarusian citizen.

What kind of future for the Belarusian army?

Military service remains compulsory for young Belarusians. However, because of the frequent cases of physical and psychological abuse, many young men shun military service. The case of Private Korzhych has added resonance to this point.

Circumstances around Korzhych’s death have forced both the Belarusian president and the Defence Ministry to react. However, the authorities’ tradition of offering a few conciliatory words are not enough this time around. Belarusian human rights groups, the media, and local activists are keeping the public’s attention focused on the issue.

Even under an authoritarian regime, the government still finds it necessary to respond to the appeals of more than 10 thousand Belarusians.

Officials have already taken a few steps to respond to public concerns about hazing, for example reopening the investigation and firing army commanders. However, this merely appears to be an attempt to deflect public anger and attention away from the root causes and existing problems surrounding arm hazings. A substantive change to the conditions of military service would likely demand constant pressure from civil society, until the authorities feel pressure to react.




Strengthening independence, deals with Azerbaijan, a new UK approach – Ostrogorski Centre digest

In October, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed Belarus’s involvement in supplying arms to Syrian war parties, the UK’s new approach towards Belarus, and how President Alexander Lukashenka’s recent appointments strengthen Belarusian independence and identity.

Commentary from the Ostrogorski Centre also appeared in the media. The topics under analysis ranged from the new edition of the law on mass rallies, to the Belarusian anarchist movement and state reactions against it, and to Belarus-Azerbaijan deals on weapons and oil.

Last but not least, the centre published five new policy papers in the areas of economics, education and public administration, and uploaded them to the BelarusPolicy research database—a joint project between the Ostrogorski Centre and the Belarusian Research Council.

Analytics

Siarhei Bohdan examines on whose side Belarus is in the Syrian civil war. Belarus thus is accused of supplying all sides in the Syrian civil war. If the allegations are proven, unscrupulous deals in such a conflict amount to a gross violation of international security regulations.

The responses by more influential states or a global power like the US or Russia to such a violation would likely be much harsher than their reactions to human rights violations committed by Minsk. But available evidence proves that Minsk is only an indirect participant. Its involvement in the Syrian conflict as a supplier of weapons is limited to working with intermediaries acting on behalf of Western countries and their allies.

Igar Gubarevich investigates whether the United Kingdom is finally interested in Belarus. The UK has virtually overlooked Belarus since the latter regained its independence over twenty five years ago. London has, by and large, been a strong proponent of a hard-line approach towards Lukashenka’s regime. The UK has avoided talking to the authorities in Minsk.

The UK’s post-Brexit needs and Belarus’s increased role in stabilising security in the region made the junior minister’s visit to Minsk finally possible. However, a major increase in bilateral cooperation or the UK’s substantial departure from today’s common EU policy towards Belarus remains unlikely under current circumstances.

Картинки по запросу карлюкевіч

Aliaksandr Karliukievič, the new Belarusian Minister of Information. Photo: BelTA

Vadzim Smok claims that Lukashenka’s recent appointments strengthen Belarusian independence and identity. Over the last few months, the Belarusian president has made a number of high-level appointments that demonstrate a clear trend of “Belarusianisation” of the government. A number of new military chiefs never studied in Russian military schools as did most of their peers.

Certain job candidates known to speak Belarusian on a daily basis received positions as rector of Lukashenka’s alma mater – Mahilioŭ State University, Minister of Information and Deputy Foreign Minister. This policy is apparently supposed to strengthen the country’s independence and national identity.  What differs “Belarusianisation” from Lukashenka’s previous policy methods is to emphasise not a purely statist, but also a cultural approach to nation-building.

Comments in the media

On Radio Poland’s “Political mirror” programme, Ryhor Astapenia discussed the entrance of private companies to the utility sector, whether the authorities will allow Belarusians to rally freely, and why only a few hundred people gathered at the socio-economic protest in Minsk.

Igar Gubarevich, also on Radio Poland, analysed the first visit of a high-level British official to Belarus in the country’s independent history. According to the expert, the visit of Sir Alan Duncan has two obvious reasons. First, the UK is interested in Belarus’s position on the annexation of the Crimea remaining unchanged. The second reason is Whitehall has begun to negotiate Brexit and it is looking to shape its own foreign policy independent from the EU. Therefore, the official explored how to build Britain’s own policy towards Belarus.

The third Ostrogorski Centre analyst to speak on Radio Poland, Alesia Rudnik, discussed today’s anarchist movement in Belarus and its persecution by the authorities.

Belarusian Security Council State Secretary Stanislaŭ Zaś meets Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Photo: cis.minsk.by

The Times of Israel newspaper quoted Siarhei Bohdan in an article on Belarus’s possible military assistance to the Syrian Assad regime. According to Siarhei, Belarus’s ties to the Assad regime are not as deep as they appear. The country is still looking to maintain its business ties with the Gulf states—which have deeper pockets than Syria—and that Belarus would not risk those relationships for a quick buck from Assad or Iran.

Siarhei Bohdan in an interview to Azerbaijani news agency Vzglyad.az discussed the meeting of Belarusian Security Council State Secretary Stanislaŭ Zaś with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. According to Siarhei, Zaś was likely to have negotiated on Azeri oil supplies to Belarus, as well as defence industry projects, in particular, involvement in Belarus’s missile programme.

Belarus Policy

Aliaksandr Filipaŭ. Mechanisms of motivation of civil servants in Belarus: how to reconcile the irreconcilable? BIPART, 2017.

Aliaksandr Čubryk. Reforms in Belarus after the cancelled IMF program: totem and taboo. IPM Research Centre, 2017.

Kaciaryna Barnukova. Fiscal redistribution in Belarus: what works and what doesn’t? BEROC, 2017.

Final monitoring of the implementation of the Roadmap for Higher Education Reform in Belarus. Belarusian Independent Bologna Committee, 2017.

Belarusian Economic Review, Q2 2017. BEROC, 2017.

Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion in 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 StudiesBelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.




On whose side is Belarus in the Syrian civil war?

On 7 September, the Israeli air force attacked the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre. According to the Times of Israel, Belarusians may have been among those working at the Centre.

Meanwhile, a Bulgarian hacker group recently published documents showing that Silk Way, an Azerbaijani airline that transports arms for Syrian opposition groups, directed some of its flights via Minsk. Concurrently, Russian and Polish media circulated reports of alleged arms deals between Minsk and sponsors of Syrian opposition groups for several millions euros.

Belarus thus is accused of supplying all sides in the Syrian civil war. But available evidence proves that Minsk is an indirect participant. Its involvement in the Syrian conflict as supplier of weapons is limited to working with intermediaries acting on behalf of Western countries and their allies.

Belarus has no missile technology for Damascus

On 15 September, the Times of Israel published an article about alleged defence cooperation between the Belarusian and Syrian governments. It quoted Ronen Solomon, an Israeli freelance intelligence analyst, saying there were Belarusians working at the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Center helping Damascus to improve its ballistic missiles.

However, the Syrian opposition website Zaman al-Wasl reported it was Russians, Iranians and North Koreans, who had worked at the bombed facility. Solomon told Times of Israel “that given the nature of the site and Russia’s interests in the region, it’s unlikely that Moscow would send experts to such a facility,” hence they should have been Belarusians.

He also insisted that “Belarus … is particularly skilled in improving existing missiles with better guidance systems … Belarusian companies … tout also their preparedness to sell technologies coveted by Hezbollah, like anti-aircraft systems, drones and shore-to-ship missiles.“

Belarus, however, has little to offer to Damascus in terms of missile technologies. and that little technology it itself acquired in the most recent years. Minsk inherited a great deal of military technologies from the Soviet Union, but has next to nothing to build missiles. In the early 2010s, it even had to ask the Chinese, and maybe also recruited some Ukrainians, to help assemble multiplelaunch rocket systems. These types of systems are the most basic for a country intending to master missile technologies. Although this year Belarusian defence companies demonstrated something similar to short-range cruise or ballistic missile at a defence industry exhibition in Minsk, these are not the types of technologies that interest either Syria or its Iranian allies.

Moreover, even if Belarus had something to offer the Syrian government, that would be a doubtful deal for Belarus. Minsk knows these sorts of deals would hardly bring money from an embattled leader such as Assad. It would also undermine Belarusian relations with Assad’s opponents, particularly rich, Arab, conservative regimes.

A litany accusations

Bashar Assad in Belarus in 2010. Image: CTV.by

In 2012, The Atlantic, a respectable US media outlet, reported that Minsk might be trying to help Syria build fibre-optic gyroscopes for surface-to-surface missiles. No proof has ever been publicly presented.

Nonetheless, since 2012, the US Treasury has maintained sanctions on the Belarusian defence firm Belvneshpromservice (BVPS). The sanctions have been imposed for violating the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which forbids supplying these states with any materials and equipment related to weapons of mass destruction or cruise or ballistic missiles.

It is not clear what triggered the imposition of US sanctions. Back in 2012, the media reported that the sanctions had been imposed for Minsk providing Syria with “fuses for general purpose aerial bombs.” But, in fact, it could have been for a deal with any of the three black-listed countries. Indeed, during that period Minsk is documented to have supplied radars to Iran.

Arms for Syrian opposition: How much did Minsk know?

Meanwhile, on 30 August, the Russian website EADaily published a lengthy piece on alleged Belarusian-supplied arms to the radical Syrian opposition. According to Russian journalists, “Deliveries were implemented through a chain of intermediaries, but Minsk cannot claim ignorance about the final recipients.

The EADaily article was not the first report about Belarusian arms reaching Syrian opposition via the Balkans. As early as September 2015, American media outlet Buzzfeed revealed that a US contractor via a Bulgarian intermediary had bought 700 missiles for “Konkurs” anti-tank systems from Belarus. Moreover, the Buzzfeed article alleged that American instructors sent to teach Syrian opposition fighters how to use the systems had passed through Belarus en route to Syria.

Syrian civil war. Image: RT.com

This may just be the tip of the iceberg. In an official report, the Bulgarian Economics Ministry catalogued €37.8m in arms imports from Belarus to Bulgaria for 2015. In 2016, Belarusian arms imports rose to €84.2m.

Most of these deliveries were sent via Romania. This ensured the arms were subject to customs declaration. Therefore, according to official Romanian Foreign Ministry reports, Belarusian military exports to Bulgaria via Romania in 2015 not only included smoothbore arms with a calibre of more than 20mm, but also various arms with a calibre more than 12.7mm, and ammunition, missiles, artillery shells, and bombs. In 2016, the Romanian Foreign Ministry tracked imports of missile systems, artillery shells with a calibre of more than 122mm, RPG grenades, missiles, an armoured vehicle, and aircraft-cannon shells.

These shipments stand out, because before 2015 Belarus scarcely exported arms to Bulgaria. For instance, according to the Bulgarian Economics Ministry, in 2013 Bulgaria imported missiles, artillery shells and military electronic equipment from Belarus worth €411,000.

Arms from Belarus ensures alibis for sponsors of Syrian opposition

Of course, these accusatory reports are shtum about the final destination of the Belarusian arms. Bulgaria has no need for these weapons. Russian EADaily, furthermore, noticed that the exports from Belarus to Bulgaria coincide with the value of official Bulgarian exports of similar arms in similar quantities to the US and Saudi Arabia. It is most likely that the Belarusian arms went to the Syrian opposition.

Oddly enough, Bulgaria itself manufactures almost all the types of equipment and ammunition that it bought from Minsk. Such deals, however, make perfect sense, because Minsk still has these items left over from Soviet times. Such arms, if sent to Syria, would not attract much attention in a country that for many decades had bought Soviet arms.

Delivery of Belarus humanitarian aid to Syria in summer 2017. Image: BelTA.

Nonetheless, the situation is even more complicated. The arms might have gone from Bulgaria to various destinations outside Syria, as well. Hackers from the group Anonymous Bulgaria have recently published stolen documents from Azerbaijani airline company Silk Way. The documents appear to show the company has been transporting arms for the Syrian opposition. The documents also indicate Silk Way had flights originating from Minsk, but not heading for the Middle East. On 14 February, the company reportedly transported ammunition from Minsk via Bulgaria to Afghanistan.

In sum, Western and Russian media regularly speculate on Belarus’s alleged ties to various parties in the Syrian civil war. The secretive and relatively unknown Belarusian regime naturally attracts such accusations. In particular, this sort of speculation provides explanations for otherwise murky cases, like that of the Syrian missile centre.

In addition, accusations for alleged Belarusian assistance to either the Syrian government or to the opposition can be used as a political tool against Minsk.

If the allegations are proven, unscrupulous deals in such a conflict amount to a gross violation of international security regulations.The responses by more influential states or a global power like the US or Russia to such a violation would likely be much harsher than their reactions to human rights violations committed by Minsk.




The Belarusian berry industry – Belarus photo digest

Year by year, Belarus increases its exports of two of the most popular and valued kinds of its berries—garden blueberries and cranberries. More than 100 private farms and a number of state farms in Belarus are involved with blueberry cultivation. 70 percent of Belarus’s blueberry fields lie in the Brest region.

The history of cranberry cultivation in Belarus has an adventurous plot. When US farmers started to grow garden varieties of wild berries, the Soviet Union followed suit. The Belarusian territory of Paliessie was chosen as the ideal place to farm and cultivate them. After Soviet troops entered Afghanistan, the United States imposed an embargo on grains and any seedlings, which included berries. In response, Soviet authorities decided to steal the embargoed items. Berry seedlings were smuggled to Belarus via Canada. Belarusian scientist Michail Kudzinaŭ famously brought them by the pocket-full from Canada.

Today, Belarus’s planting area and the production volume of berries grow every year. The export of berries brings foreign currency to the state budget. Key export markets for both cranberries and blueberries include the EU and Russia. However, Poland has recently begun to rival Belarusian berry vendors within the EU market. Belarus, thanks to cheaper labour, remains number one. Unfortunately, the state offers no support to the berry producers of Belarus.

A berry orchard in Alšany, Stolin district in Belarus’s Brest region. The company Alšany, which shares the same name as the village, cultivates these blueberries. The Alšany company is a world leader in growing blueberries.

More than half Stolin’s inhabitants are practising Pentecostals. Unusually for Belarus, the population of Alšany village is constantly growing and new houses appear in the village every year.

Working private plots as well as labouring for large farms in Alšany remains the main source of income for most of the population there. In 2016, the Alšany company farm produced 40 tonnes of blueberries. A kilogram of blueberries fetches $9 USD at retail market prices. Wholesale prices for blueberries are slightly lower.

Product quality requirements are tightened every year. Manufacturers must refine techniques and improve technologies. They cover the berries with a special green netting to protect them from birds. In dry summers, the berries can become acidic and shrink in size, which reduces their sale value. To prevent this, farmers build extensive irrigation systems.

The Alšany company’s director argues he doesn’t really need to seek too many foreign buyers. Most berries sell out very quickly in Belarus and Russia.

Blueberries are popular among cosmetic and pharmaceutical manufacturers. In addition, they have uses for diabetics and children’s health. Some studies show they help to prevent cancer and improve eyesight.

Berry pickers often come in family groups. Although the job is no easy, it is well paid. The farm pays 35 US cents a kilogram. A skilled berry-picker can gather up to 40-50 kg per day.

For more than 30 years, Belarus has been growing a variety cranberry first cultivated in America. The state-run Paliessie Cranberries company remains an uncontested pioneer and leader in the industry.

 

The climate of the territory of Paliessie and its marshy soil are ideal for growing cranberries.

This past year, the company harvested more than 650 tonnes of cranberries. The berries are collected in two ways.

Wet or mechanised harvesting is the least harmful method to gather berries.

The garden cranberry varieties used for farming are harder and larger compared to wild species. Industrial harvesting tractors do not damage these garden varieties.

Seasonal workers also do dry collection with their hands. They pick the most solid and good-looking berries, which will be exported abroad.

The cranberries sent to Belarusian and Russian markets are used mainly for the production of jams and vitamins.

In the UK, where cranberry sauce is often an important part of any Christmas dinner, imports of Belarusians cranberries have increased recent years. In total, The state-run Paliessie Cranberries company exports more than 80 percent of its harvested berries.

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from the Maladzeczna Region, he received a degree in history from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




Redrawing the geopolitical map: Belarus and its neighbours connect the Black and Baltic seas

Belarus and Poland are advancing a project to connect the Black and Baltic Seas via the E40 waterway. The 2,000 km-long waterway will run through rivers and canals in Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland and provide better access to seaports for landlocked Belarus.

Having already conducted a feasibility study, the participating countries are now considering ways to finance the project before making their final decision.

However, in July, several environmental organisations and public associations launched a campaign against the E40 waterway. About two dozen organisations from Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine signed a petition to halt the project.

If anything can ensure the sovereignty of Belarus and its neighbours, it is such projects which modify the political geography of the region. Unfortunately, many experts and politicians in the region do not seem to understand this matter.

Is the project really as large as it seems?

Linking up the Black and Baltic Seas, the proposed E40 route also connects many of the region’s major cities: Brest and Pinsk in Belarus, Gdańsk and Warsaw in Poland, and Kyiv and Kherson in Ukraine. The designers of the E40 project emphasise that their intention is to restore a previously existing waterway to move both people and cargo. In most parts of the waterway, ships are navigating even today.

The Polish leg of the project will require the most work, while Belarus has only to partially streamline the Prypiats’ River, construct seven locks, and build several other hydro-technical facilities.

Map of the proposed E40 waterway. Image: e40restoration.eu

The Polish Maritime Institute in Gdańsk carried out a feasibility study on the project with EU support. According to the institute, construction of facilities on the Prypiats’, i.e., the Belarusian part of the undertaking, would cost $150m. In comparison, about 12bn euros is to be spent on construction of the Polish part of the route.

Criticism from activists

On 19 July, certain environmentalists and economists expressed their concerns over Е40 during a press conference in Minsk. Ales’ Herasimenka, the press secretary of the Business Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers, criticised the project for the high investment risks it carries and the negative consequences for the Belarusian economy.

According to him, internal waterways are generally less efficient than automotive and rail transport in terms of rapidness, necessity of reloading cargo, and seasonal limitations. Therefore, according to Herasimenka: ‘We believe that government and institutional investors should come to terms with the decline of the role of inland water transport. … Waterways were relevant at the beginning of civilisation.’

However, such cursory dismissal of inland water transport is misjudged. In other European countries, this form of infrastructure shows no obvious signs of decline. Between 1990 and 2015, despite some ups and downs, the cargo volume of German inland water transport remained more or less static, at slightly more than 220m tons.

Likewise, some types of cargo, especially liquid bulk and dry bulk cargo, can be profitably transported through inland waterways, despite the limitations on speed. Several major firms in southern Belarus could take advantage of the waterway to transport large volumes of cargo. The Mikashevichy-based firm Hranit has been using the Prypiats to transport its granite for many years. Likewise, the Mazyr oil refinery or the Salihorskbased potash company Belaruskali could transport their products using water transport.

Tourism cannot replace trade

Image: Nasha Niva

Environmentalists insist that the project could have grave consequences for the local bird population, including several vulnerable species. Moreover, they claim it could potentially destroy the unique wetlands ecosystem.

However, the project does not envision any direct destruction of the wetlands. Moreover, nature in the area is not pristine anyway. In the 20th century, most swamps were drained in southern Belarus, and intensive economic activity altered the region significantly.

What’s more, the local environment is transforming because of global climate change. The water level in southern Belarusian rivers has been low for several years. Last year, because of the low water level in the Prypiats’, navigation on the river stopped much earlier than usual: by the beginning of autumn. On the other hand, because of rising temperatures and earlier springs, last year the company Belarusian Riverine Steamships started navigation on the Prypiats’ a month earlier than normal, in March.

One critic of the project, a representative of the Polish organisation Ratujmy Rzeki, Przemyslaw Nawrocki, urges Belarus to develop tourism along the Prypiats’. However, despite the beautiful landscapes along the river, the tourism industry is unlikely to be able to compete with the income brought by the E40. Belarus is simply too poor to leave the region undeveloped to satisfy environmental activists.

The waterway as a political game-changer

The E40 project also has political significance. ‘Death of Palissie [the name of the region in the Pripyats River Basin] or an alliance against Russia?’ exclaimed the US-financed and administered Radio Liberty, writing about the project on 24 July.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian government is negotiating a waterway which would help it use Polish and Ukrainian ports at the time when the Kremlin is urging Minsk to reroute its cargo away from Latvian and Lithuanian ports towards Russian Baltic ports. Minsk is not only resisting Moscow’s plans in this area, it even wants to make more intensive use of ports in countries Moscow considers unfriendly.

Map of the Baltic ports used by Belarus. Image: Tut.by

However, this concerns more than just Russia. Minsk is increasingly interested in the Polish port of Gdańsk and various Ukrainian ports because of very probable problems with using the Lithuanian port of Klaipėda

The Lithuanian government has become unfriendly towards Minsk in recent years because of Belarus’s decision to build a nuclear power plant near the Lithuanian border. Moreover, on 14 July, the Klaipėda City council voted to expand the city at the expense of its port – a priority destination for maritime export of Belarusian products. Belarus had invested in the Klaipėda port and there was long-standing bilateral cooperation on using the port for Belarusian foreign trade. This decision of local authorities dissmisses the plans of the port administration to construct a new deep-water port for ocean-going ships a dream for Belarusian exporters.

In sum, projects like E40 alter the geopolitics of the region, opening it up and providing it with further and better connections to the sea. Belarus cannot change its location, but it can develop its infrastructure in a way which mitigates its disadvantage as a landlocked country. Minsk can diversify its exports and reduce its dependence on Russia; it can also better integrate with its neighbours and the EU.

The environmental and economic arguments against the project are unconvincing, at least as far as Belarus is concerned. To survive, Belarus must reach the sea; the E40 is one way to do this.




Belarus and Ukraine cooperate in the face of Russian pressure

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka travelled to Kyiv on an official visit on 20-21 July. Both Belarus and Ukraine, for different reasons, are seeking to reinvigorate direct dialogue between their leaders, which they resumed three months ago in the Chernobyl zone.

The ‘age-old friendship’ (in Lukashenka’s terms) between Alexander Lukashenka and Petro Poroshenko may appear paradoxical: the former is authoritarian and pro-Russian while the latter is democratically minded and pro-European.

Ukraine is resisting Russian aggression while Belarus remains Moscow’s closest military and political ally. It seems that simplistic political clichés do not capture the two nations’ complex relationship.

A means to boost trade

Lukashenka attended Poroshenko’s inauguration in June 2014 and returned again to Kyiv in December of the same year on a brief working visit. However, a lengthy hiatus of highest-level encounters followed. An attempt to arrange a meeting between the two leaders before the end of 2016 fell through, probably because of the Ukrainian elites’ displeasure at the Belarusian move against the Ukrainian resolution at the United Nations.

The two presidents finally met on 26 April 2017, at the site of the Chernobyl NPP in Ukraine, and continued their talks at the village of Liaskavichy in Belarus. Lukashenka’s top priority was to boost business ties; Poroshenko’s greatest need was assurance of Belarus’s continued neutrality regarding Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.

Despite a twofold drop in bilateral trade turnover in recent years, Ukraine remains Belarus’s second-largest trading partner, and Belarus is Ukraine’s fourth-largest. What’s more, the growth in trade resumed in 2016 (+10.5%, up to $3.8m) and accelerated in January-May 2017 (+26.7%).

Managers of about 90 Belarusian and over 380 Ukrainian companies attended a Belarusian-Ukrainian business forum held on the sidelines of Lukashenka’s recent visit. They signed contracts amounting to $68m to supply petrochemical products, fertilisers, trucks, harvesters, tyres, lifts, and other goods to Ukraine.

The two leaders agreed to intensify Belarusian-Ukrainian inter-regional ties – in particular by holding annual inter-regional forums. The first such event will soon take place in the Belarusian city of Homiel. The Belarusian government wants to adapt its trade relations with Ukraine to the latter’s decentralisation policies. The Ukrainian regions now have more power and money: thus, direct contacts may prove to be more efficient.

Venturing into foreign markets together

Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union will pose new challenges to bilateral trade with Belarus as Kyiv starts reorienting towards the European market. At the same time, this situation offers new opportunities for Minsk to promote its products in Europe through their higher localisation in Ukraine. The latter is also interested in exporting more to Belarus and its EAEU partners, especially in the context of reciprocal sanction regimes with Russia.

In Kyiv, the Belarusian leader spoke about ‘thousands of goods’ that Belarus and Ukraine could jointly produce and sell. ‘We want to work together in the Distant Arc, in other countries… We will create high-tech goods and we will sell them together in foreign markets’, Lukashenka stated.

His Ukrainian host was slightly more specific. ‘It is important that there is now a mutual interest in the creation of new joint ventures. By this I mean aircraft engineering, transport, and agricultural machine building’, Poroshenko said.

According to Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Siamashka, Belarus now has seven knockdown assembly plants in Ukraine, and Ukraine has six such enterprises in Belarus. Belarus’s strategy is to combine Belarusian preferential loans with Ukrainian subsidies to farmers and to increase localisation of goods in order to boost sales in Ukraine and third countries.

Energy projects: Moscow will not be happy

Importantly, Lukashenka and Poroshenko discussed cooperation in the energy sector, calling it an extremely promising avenue. Ukraine wants to supply more electrical energy to Belarus. However, they still disagree over the exact terms of the contract.

Poroshenko also announced that the two leaders ‘agreed to consider the possibility of expanding supplies of energy resources [to Belarus], especially crude oil, using the unique transit potential of Ukraine’.

Thus, on 23 May in Minsk, Gomeltransneft Druzhba (Belarus) and Ukrtransnafta (Ukraine) signed an agreement on the use of the oil pipeline Mazyr-Brody. The pipeline would allow the transport of Azerbaijani and Iranian oil from the Ukrainian port of Odessa to Belarusian refineries.

Currently, about 60% of Ukraine’s total import of petrol and 40% of its diesel fuel comes from Belarus. They are both made from refined Russian oil. Ukraine hopes to get an even better deal and increase the purchase volume by supplying crude oil for refining.

For Belarus, securing alternative oil sources would mean mitigating its energy dependence on Russia. However, this would require strong political will and significant investments; such a scheme may not be economically viable given the advantageous oil prices Moscow still offers Minsk.

Lukashenka’s assurances according to Poroshenko

In Kyiv, Alexander Lukashenka carefully avoided making any statement which could be interpreted as him taking sides in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. He spoke about Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians as a ‘civilisational core in this part of the European continent’.

The Belarusian leader stressed repeatedly that he would go no further in his peace-making efforts than Putin and Poroshenko asked. He also announced an increase in humanitarian assistance to the Donbass region.

In the presence of Lukashenka, Poroshenko told the press about his counterpart’s assurances that ‘the territory of Belarus, friendly to Ukraine, will never be used for aggressive actions against Ukraine, and the Ukrainian-Belarusian border will never become a border of war’.

The Ukrainian government and Ukrainian society remain extremely worried that Russia could use the upcoming military exercise West-2017, involving the Russian and Belarusian armies, to launch an offensive against Ukraine. The exercise will be held in Belarus on 14-20 September.

Poroshenko had already spoken of Lukashenka’s assurances in similar terms at their April meeting. However, the promises of the Belarusian leader apparently failed to convince certain factions in the Ukrainian government. Following Lukashenka’s visit, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak refused to rule out the possibility of ‘provocations from Russia under a false pretext’ in the context of West-2017.

The meeting in Kyiv demonstrated that Lukashenka and Poroshenko have developed a close personal rapport. The two countries’ governments share an interest in stronger economic ties; they also have a fairly good understanding of how to build them. Belarus will never willingly endanger Ukraine’s security. Ukraine understands that it cannot realistically expect more than Belarus’s neutrality in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Despite the fact that they belong to opposing geopolitical alliances, Belarus and Ukraine still need each other to withstand Russia’s pressure. Their close bilateral cooperation will be instrumental in making both countries stronger.




Minsk process promoted, engaging the diaspora, export growth – Belarus state press digest

The Belarusian state press promotes the new Helsinki process initiated on Minsk’s initiative and reports on the numerous foreign policy achievements of the country.

The government attempts to engage the Belarusian Diaspora worldwide to realise its goals. Belarusian exports demonstrate growth after a long recession. This and more in the new edition of the Belarus State Press Digest.

Foreign policy

Lukashenka demands that Belarus’s presence worldwide increases.The current stage in the development of the Belarusian state requires building up foreign policy and economy in a more broad and systematic way. It is time for Belarus to speak out loud in the international arena and actively promote and protect its national interests’. The Belarusian leader gave this comment as part of a speech to the diplomatic corps and all bodies of power at a meeting on foreign policy priorities, reports Belarus Segodnia.

Lukashenka went on to claim that it is fundamentally important to develop cooperation with the East and West, without making a choice between them. The country needs to establish contacts everywhere, so that others know and understand it. The potential for normalising dialogue with the West should be realised more actively. In the European region and in the world, Belarus’s new role as a ‘security donor’ is becoming increasingly evident, as the country’s partners are showing interest in the Minsk initiative on launching a new Helsinki process.

Belarus eager to boost economic cooperation with Ukraine. During an official visit from the Belarusian president to Ukraine, Alexander Lukashenka and Pyotr Poroshenko agreed to focus on a return to an annual trade turnover of $8bn. Belarus and Ukraine also agreed to work on industrial cooperation and joint projects to modernise road and transport infrastructure, introduce innovative technologies, develop production cooperation, and increase cooperation between regions, reports Belarus Segodnia.

Poroshenko called the development of close relations with Belarus a highly important priority, while Lukashenka proposed to work together on humanitarian aid to Donbass, stating that in his peacemaking attempts he does not have personal ambitions and does only what Putin and Poroshenko ask of him.

Minsk hosts the VII Congress of the World Association of Belarusians. The congress gathered 300 delegates from more than 20 countries, including Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Uladzimir Makiej, writes Zviazda. According to Makiej, the authorities are sincerely interested in a greater role for the diaspora in the social, economic, spiritual and cultural development of Belarus, preserving and strengthening the independence of the Belarusian state.

The Ministry and the Belarusian diaspora need to identify promising areas for cooperation. A start could be organising cultural events which promote the country’s image, and returning cultural artefacts to Belarus, Makiej said. Today, between 3 and 4 million Belarusians live abroad, according to various estimates.

Belarus manages to block two critical resolutions at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Narodnaja Hazieta published a comment by political expert Aliaksandr Špakoŭski on the results of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session in Minsk, which Belarus hosted for the first time in its history. In addition, Belarus managed to effectively block two resolutions critical of the political regime in Belarus.

The first, proposed by Lithuania, concerned the construction of the Astraviec nuclear plant. The second document, ‘Situation in Eastern Europe’, was initiated by a Swedish deputy. This great success was possible thanks to both diplomatic talent and parliamentary professionalism, as well as the result of the rapprochement of Belarus and the EU.

Importantly, as Špakoŭski notes, it is not Belarus which is changing its political institutions or policies, it is the EU changing its attitude towards Belarus. The West, waging a political struggle with Russia, continues to view Belarus as a potential arena for this confrontation, but its tactics have changed. If earlier Western countries directly attacked Belarus, now they are performing a kind of diplomatic sounding, which suits Belarus more than an open confrontation.

Economy

Belarus sees increase in exports. This is the result of a number of international successes and activities that have helped make Belarus known in the world, writes Respublika. In January – May of 2017, exports of goods and services increased by 20.6%, or $2bn when compared with the same period of 2016. At the same time, imports over the same period have increased by only 15.7%.

A certain breakthrough also occurred in trade with North America, which was long frozen. Both exports and imports are growing, although figures still remain relatively small. Meanwhile, in the first five months of the year, exports of goods amounted to $80m, or 2.5 times higher than last year. However, the Belarusian services, and especially IT residents of the High Technologies Park, have been more successful: exports in services could reach $500m by the end of 2017.

The Belarusian nuclear power plant is to be launched in the summer of 2020. The General Director of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, Alexei Likhachev, assured Alexander Lukashenka of this during their meeting. Lukashenka emphasised that the construction of the NPP is important from an economic, political, and moral point of view.

According to him, the decision to build a nuclear power plant after the Chernobyl disaster was not easy, as phobias remained strong, but the government has managed to convince the population of its safety. The authorities are monitoring the construction very thoroughly and the president personally receives updates on the details of construction.

Belarus plans to improve legislation in the field of public procurement. Hrodzienskaja Praŭda quoted an official of the Department of Financial Investigation of the State Control Committee, Viačaslaŭ Andruchaŭ. He announced these plans ahead of the international TAIEX seminar, organised by his agency jointly with the European Commission.

The most common corruption cases in public procurement concern the illegal restriction of individuals’ access to participation in the procurement procedure in order to create conditions for concluding a contract with a pre-selected organisation, as well as conscious understatement of the price by the bidder and subsequent increase thereof by concluding supplementary agreements to the contract.

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.