Helsinki-2, friendship with Venezuela, Sberbank advancement, boosting IT sector – Belarus state press digest

The Saudi King’s deals with Russia will benefit Belarus, believe experts. The Belarusian peace building initiative, Helsinki-2, receives positive feedback in the EU. Belarus and Venezuela work to restore former levels of cooperation.

The Belarusian oil industry is losing its hold in Russia’s market. Russian state-owned banking and financial services company Sberbank plans to increase its presence in Belarus. The government is working on a package of revolutionary laws to help boost the IT sector.

This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.

Foreign policy

King Salman’s deals with Russia will benefit Belarus. Belarus Segodnia has published an analysis of the recent visit of the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to Moscow and its impact on Belarus. For Minsk, it is certainly a positive development. Belarus is interested both in the growth of prices for oil products, which it produces and exports, and in the overall restoration of the Russian market, which consumes the bulk of Belarusian goods. The growing influence of Russia, Belarus’s key ally, in the Middle East also seems important.

World media and leaders discuss the Belarusian Helsinki-2 initiative. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka’s initiative for Europeans to abandon their geopolitical rivalries will occupy an important place on the European agenda in the coming year. Helsinki-2 derives its name from the Helsinki Process, a series of debates and dialogues initiated by Soviet Leaders in the early 70s, which culminated in the 1975 Helsinki Accords. If Belarus becomes a global discussion site, the whole of Europe will win. The German newspaper Die Zeit believes the need for such an initiative is long overdue and complains that Western diplomacy has played little or no part in bringing the initiative about.

Christine Muttonen, the chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, sees Helsinki-2 as a good way to solve the problems that have accumulated in the region. This summer, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano set out Italy’s priorities for the OSCE Council chairmanship in 2018. He made it clear that his country will fully support Helsinki-2, writes Belarus Segodnia.

Belarus and Venezuela eager to restore former levels of cooperation. On 5 October, President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro paid an official visit to Belarus and held talks with president Lukashenka, reports Zviazda. Belarus and Venezuela developed good economic ties in the past. They created several joint ventures in the production of cars and tractors, oil extraction, gas networks, construction and other areas.

In recent years, trade between the countries has declined due to the combined strain of economic and political woes in Venezuela and the world economic crisis. As Maduro said, “We’ve passed the time of wars and battles, and we strengthened in these battles. We are now at the recovery stage, and we’d like to restore former levels of cooperation.” Alexander Lukashenka stated both sides are currently elaborating a new road map for cooperation.

Economy

A branch of BPS-Sberbank in Minsk. Photo: sb.by

Russian Sberbank plans to increase its presence in the Belarusian market. According to the Russian, state-run Sberbank Head German Gref, the bank is planning to curtail its operations in a number of European countries and Ukraine. Sanctions against Russia have made work in these countries “extremely difficult,” reports Souyz. Belarus, on the other hand, has entered the list of the most promising markets for the bank, along with Turkey and other CIS countries.

Now Sberbank has 59 branches in Belarus, 15 of them in Minsk. Last year, the bank’s Belarusian subsidiary, BPS-Sberbank, retained third place among banks operating in Belarus for individual deposits, accounting for 7.3 per cent. The bank’s number of individual customers grew by 11,000 and has reached almost 1.58 million. BPS-Sberbank’s customers keep 61 per cent of their deposits in US dollars. Only 21 per cent of account holders keep their savings in solely Belarusian rubles.

Belarusian oil industry faces new challenges. The Belarusian oil industry faces two serious challenges: intensifying oil processing and capitalising upon new, premium markets, writes Respublika. According to Siarhei Hryb, General Director of the Belarusian Oil Company, Belarusian gasoline will soon become superfluous in Russia, because the Russian market is saturated. This is due to Russia’s rapid development of native oil processing facilities and self-preferential tax manoeuvring.

European markets seem the most promising alternative, in particular Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. In the future, Belarus will need to expand its production of chemicals beyond oil-based compounds. The production of jet fuel holds vast potential for the industry.

Belarus has the chance to become one of the largest IT centres in Europe. The Belarusian government is working on a package of bills nicknamed High-Tech Park 2.0, which are intended to boost state support for the domestic IT sector. Its authors promise a revolution in the industry, which they hope will turn Belarus into the IT flagship of the entire European continent. According to Aliaksandr Marcinkievič, deputy director for marketing and development at the Belarus High Technologies Park, over the last 4–5 years Belarus has produced a critical mass of IT specialists.

Today, an environment for the development of innovative entrepreneurship and start-ups is emerging in Belarus thanks to three important factors: qualified specialists, abundant funding, and successful IT entrepreneurs and mentors. At the same time, the stiff competition among countries for the best staff and intellectual property is growing even stiffer. Belarusian officials and domestic entrepreneurs are working hard to come out on top, and thereby attract world’s leading tech companies to the country.

Culture

A Medieval festival in Belarus

Belarus needs to upgrade its festival industry. The number of festivals in Belarus is growing. The total number has reached a hundred annually. However, virtually none target foreign tourists. More than half of all festivals are national and historical in their focus, which does not necessarily interest tourists. Many such festivals also have a strong ideological backround, being organised by state bodies. They often look alike and appear unprofessional due to budget constraints and a lack of qualified organisers.

Many regional festivals are in need of attention and investment. Greater coordination with experienced promoters and business would help, too. Belarusian festivals should also develop cooperation with the International Festival Association, which might attract so-called migrating festivals to Belarus.

The state press digest is based on the 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.




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.




KEF-2017 agenda, Minsk Urban Forum, DranikFest, Club of Educators – Belarus civil society digest

Programme of KEF-2017 is published. 7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies in Warsaw gathers over 600 researchers.

DranikFest guests eat half a ton of potatoes. Minsk Urban Platform presents Ideal Yard project. Two-week Minsk Urban Forum invites to listen to Minsk city. Week Against the Death Penalty is held in Belarus.

Golden Age University in Hrodna kicks off 9th educational season for the elderly. First non-conference for schoolteachers will take place in October.

ACT drafts proposal to change NGO tax law. Press Club Belarus invites for its events of the 3rd season.  This and more in the new edition of the Belarus civil society digest.

Conferences

KEF 2017 presents its agenda. Annual Kastryčnicki/October Economic Forum, KEF will take place on 2-3 November in Minsk. KEF 2017 is aimed at finding solutions that will help lay the foundation for the future of the country and close the gap between politics and practice. The forum is organised by IPM research centre in concert with BEROC and CASE since 2013.

GEW in Belarus will be held in Belarus for the 7th time. Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) will take place on 13-19 November and focus on startups. Workshops on working with startups and developing innovations will be held in the regional capitals for local self-employed businessmen. GEW activities in Belarus are coordinated by Bel.Biz company.

7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies was held on 15-17 September in Warsaw. Over 600 researchers involved in studying Belarus attended the event. Organised by a set of independent think tanks, the annual Congress aims to promote a deeper understanding of Belarus in the country, region, and world. Next year, for the first time in its history, the Congress can take place in Belarus.

Local activism

DranikFest guests ate half a ton of potatoes. On 30 September, for the third time, Mahilioŭ hosted Festival of the most famous Belarusian – draniki/ potato pancakes. The festival gathered around 10 thousand people. Traditionally organised by the Urban Initiatives Centre together with indifferent citizens, the DranikFest is becoming the hallmark of Mahilioŭ city.

DranikFest in Mahilioŭ. Photo: tut.by

Ideal yard. The team of Minsk Urban Platform presented its project – an ideal yard in Serabranka, one of the districts of Minsk. This is a free cars territory with a seating area for children and adults. Activists and the local residents closely interacted to change the yard on their own, starting from negotiations how it should look like to be really convenient for everyone up to joint mounting the equipment.

Minsk Urban Forum held on 19-30 September. The two-week event invites “to listen to Minsk and get better”. The forum topic City as the Process includes several thematic blocks like planning the future development of the city, re-development of former industrial spaces, and civic participation of Minsk residents at various levels. The organiser is Minsk Urban Platform CSO.

Human rights

Week Against the Death Penalty is held in various parts of Belarus on 5-10 October. The key message of the Week is ‘The Death Penalty is the Past’. A series of film screenings, discussion, concerts aims to consider the issue from a wider perspective and ponder on what losses it brings to the community. The first Week Against the Death Penalty was held by the HRCViasna in 2013.

Belarusian Human Library celebrates the 3rd anniversary. On 13 October, Staloŭka XYZ, a creative space in Minsk, will host a festive Human Library that challenges stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. The event will be held in the format of the international Human Library methodology where people are books on loan to readers.

Belarus hosts Weeks of Sustainable Development 2017, from 25 September to 25 October. The event is held for the fourth time and aims to contribute to the further strengthening of the movement for sustainable development in Belarus. Under the Weeks, over 150 events across Belarus will be held, including 108 in the regions: roundtables, competitions, local festivals, educational events, etc.

Non-formal education

Golden Age University in Hrodna is launching the 9th season. The opening ceremony took place on 5 October. This academic year the University enrolled 150 students aged 55+ and included 50 educational courses. The University works in Hrodna since 2007 for local seniors adhering to the principle of active ageing. The organiser is Practical Competencies StudioThird Sector Centre.

Poster of the Week Against the Death Penalty. Source: spring96.org

Club of Educators. On 7 October, fifty specialists in the additional and non-formal education from different regions of Belarus will gather to create the Club of Educators, a professional community to exchange experience and best practices. This is an initiative of the graduates of educational courses that took place under the Learn to Act project, supported by the EU and DVV International.

Practical Politics School recruits students. The School is aimed at the formation of knowledge and organisational-activity tools to help socially active young people to orient in politics and implement practical political actions. The organisers are the Centre for European Transformation in partnership with the Belarusian Green Party.

First non-conference for schoolteachers EdCamp Belarus will take place on 14 October in Minsk. EdCamp (Education Camp) is an international initiative emerged in the U.S. and spread around the world. The format of non-conference allows the participants to develop themselves an agenda as well as interact after the event. Belarusian organisers are Global Shapers Minsk HUB and the Belarusian School Society.

Other

Proposals for changing tax legislation for CSOs have been prepared by ACT NGO. After collecting signatures under the proposals, they will be sent to the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Taxes and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs. In particular, ACT proposes not to impose an income tax on foreign charity assistance received by CSOs.

Press Club Belarus launches the 3rd season. Press Club as a platform for the professional development of the media community organises regular thematic events. On 26 September, the Media Talk series invites for a meeting on the protection of sources of information. On 2 October, Belarusian media resource KYKY.org will conduct an open editorial briefing.

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.




Zapad 2017: limits of Belarusian independence, national unity, western attention – digest of Belarusian analytics

In September, analytics on Belarus both at home and abroad almost entirely focused on Zapad 2017 military exercises and related issues of security and defence.

Arciom Šrajbman claims that Russia showed Belarus the ceiling of its independence, Jaŭhien Prejhierman responds that rumours about these limits are exaggerated.  Andrej Jahoraŭ explains why Belarus was not occupied during Zapad 2017. Belarus in Focus notes that the military drill prompted a heated discussion about national unity.

Zapad-2017 was also discussed by Bloomberg, ECFR, the National Interest Magazine, American Enterprise Institute and Lithuanian EESC.

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

Rumors About the Ceiling of Belarusian Independence Exaggerated – Jaŭhien Prejhierman, at TUT.BYargues with a journalist Arciom Šrajbman and states that the limits of Belarusian sovereignty are determined not by Moscow or Kiev, but Minsk’s own ability to pragmatically manoeuvre between conflicting interests of neighbours. In fact, Zapad 2017 exercises showed that Belarus does not know how to effectively act in the information wars.

Why We Were Not Occupied. What Zapad 2017 Was About – Andrej Jahoraŭ, at Belarusian Journal, notes that the military Russo-Belarusian drills are over; no occupation took place. According to the expert, the most important things occurred in the information sphere. Zapad 2017 is a doctrine of a consociational war, with an empirical test of the parties’ reactions to information moves and attacks.

Poverty and vulnerable groups in Belarus. Consequences of the recession of 2015-2016 This issue is dedicated to the analysis of various aspects of absolute and relative poverty in the Belarusian regions

Belarus Is Shown the Ceiling Of Its Independence – Arciom Šrajbman, TUT.by, draws attention to two events of the last month, which remind the real limits of today’s Belarusian sovereignty. The journalist means an incident with a young Ukrainian Pavel Grib who was detained in Homiel and moved to Krasnodar detention centre and thousands of Russian soldiers who entered Belarus for the military exercises.

Belarus Is the Real Victim of Russia’s Zapad War Games (Op-ed) – Jaŭhien Prejhierman, The Moscow Times, notes that this year’s hype around Zapad 2017 exercises, obviously, reflects the West’s deep mistrust for Russia and its military. The analyst believes that Russia and the West need to understand that it is in everyone’s strategic interest to keep Belarus as a neutral ground for peace talks and not a part of the Russian-Western confrontation.

Putin Pointed out to Lukashenka His Place – Aliaksandr Aliesin, a military analyst, believes that Putin and Lukashenka separately inspected Zapad 2017 exercises because Russia wanted to show Lukashenka, that he is not an equal partner. The military exercises sharpened the contradictions between Russia and Belarus, while Lukashenka is still trying to play independence.

Situation In the Field of National Security And Defence of Belarus. August 2017 – According to monthly monitoring of Belarus Security Blog, the most important event of the month was the kidnapping of a Ukrainian citizen Pavel Grib by Russian special services in Homiel. Provocation was intended to cause a crisis in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka at Zapad-2017. Photo: president.gov.by

Zapad on Belarus’ Mind – A non-paper of the 7th Belarus Reality Check analyses the recent developments in EU-Belarus relations and concludes that Minsk will try further building trust with the West, and continuing to work with and appease Russia, as its only ally. Organised by EESC, the 7th Belarus Reality Check took place in June 2017, in Vilnius to contribute to the policy debate in and outside of Belarus.

The Zapad Military Exercise Reveals Putin’s Fear – Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, considers the large-scale Russian military exercise known as Zapad, which started in Belarus on 14 September, as a propaganda success: it has alarmed Russia’s NATO neighbours and garnered so much Western media coverage that one might think it was an actual combat operation. It has also provided an important insight into the fears of the Russian and Belarusian rulers.

So Far From God, So Close To Russia: Belarus and the Zapad Military Exercise – Fredrik Wesslau & Andrew Wilson, ECFR, consider that fears that Russia may use Zapad 2017 as cover to carry out a hybrid operation in Belarus are overblown. Moscow has other levers with which it can coerce Minsk, and it neither needs nor is interested in another military adventure at the moment.

Zapad 2017: What It Reveals About the Prickly Russia-Belarus Relationship– Bruce McClintock & Bilyana Lilly, The National Interest Magazine, suppose that the Kremlin has little to gain from using Zapad 2017 as a pretext to establish the military presence in Belarus. Belarus continues to view Russia as its principal strategic military partner and seems likely to do so in the future.

Belarus’ Susceptibility to Russian Intervention – David R. Marples believes that Russia’s overriding geostrategic goal in Belarus is to keep a stable, relatively pro-Russian regime in power. Therefore, the chances of a Russian military intervention in Belarus are low for the near future.

Indicators of Belarus export activity in the 1998-2016: what are the chances for growth? The work analyses the indicators of export activity of Belarus in 1998-2016

Zapad-2017. Who Will Benefit From the Russian-Belarusian Drills – Arciom Šrajbman, Carnegie Moscow Centre, believes that despite all the reputational risks, Minsk will try to derive maximum diplomatic benefit from the military drills. On the one hand, Belarus shows to Western observers that they can trust to Minsk’s guarantees. On the other hand, Belarus will convince Moscow that it does not ‘follow the path of Ukraine’, not being afraid to host large-scale exercises with Russian troops.

West-2017 Russo-Belarusian Military Drill Causes Controversy in Belarusian Society – Belarus in Focus notes that the September military drill prompted a heated discussion in civil society about national unity. The fact that the Belarusian authorities keep alternative political views exclusively outside the political system has increased the risks of external influences or interference in domestic political processes with possible destabilisation.

West-2017: Facts and Analysis of Threats – Ihar Tyškievič, the Ukrainian Institute of Future, argues whether there is a danger for Ukraine because of the joint military drills between Russia and Belarus. He concludes that the exercises will be held as they are publicly stated, and media noise will go away.

Belarus Policy

Indicators of Belarus export activity in the 1998-2016: what are the chances for growth? The work analyses the indicators of export activity of Belarus in 1998-2016. It studies how the structure and complexity of the country’s export basket, its competitive advantages, penetration to foreign markets and inclusion in global value chains changed over the period.

Poverty and vulnerable groups in Belarus. Consequences of the recession of 2015-2016. This issue of the ‘Review of poverty and vulnerable groups in Belarus’ is dedicated to the analysis of various aspects of absolute and relative poverty in the Belarusian regions. The study was carried out on the basis of sample surveys of living standards of households in 2013-2016.

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.




West 2017 in focus, London Conference on Belarusian Studies, human rights dialogue – Ostrogorski Centre digest

In August and September, Ostrogorski Centre analysts analysed developments around West 2017 military drill, progress in the Belarus-EU dialogue on human rights and increase in poverty in recent years as well as the government’s response to it.

The Centre announced call for proposals The Third Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies, which will be held on 23–24 March 2018 at University College London.

We have also added new profiles to belarusprofile.com and new policy papers to Belaruspolicy.com databases.

Analytics

Siarhei Bohdan demonstrates how approaches to West 2017 military drill varied in Belarus and Russia. The Belarusian government struggled to reassure its neighbours, who continued to express concerns about the drills. Lukashenka himself repeatedly visited Ukraine to persuade Kyiv of Belarus’s peaceful intentions.

In contrast, the Kremlin craved an intimidating military show. Thus, Minsk and Moscow were jointly holding an exercise which both countries saw in very different ways. It is unsurprising that their policy regarding West 2017 was vastly different.

Ryhor Astapenia discusses the growth of poverty in Belarus in recent years and the government’s response to it. One of Lukashenka’s greatest achievements in Belarusian society has been his fight against poverty. However, poverty is once again on the rise.

The main reason people end up below the poverty line is the loss of employment, as the state fails to provide any meaningful help for the unemployed. It seems that poverty is doomed to continue spreading, as the authorities see no way out of the crisis other than shifting the country’s economic woes onto the backs of the poor.

Igar Gubarevich analyses the development of the Belarus-EU dialogue on human rights. Belarus hopes to put human rights issues on the back burner in its relationship with the West. At the same time, the country’s authorities understand that avoiding any discussion of this subject could hamper the modest rapprochement between the two parties.

Meanwhile, the West continues to put pressure on Belarus in international human rights bodies, in particular the UN Human Rights Council. Only time will tell which of the two policies – dialogue or critical monitoring – will prove more effective in instigating democratic change in Belarus.

The Third Annual London Conference ‘Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century’

The Second Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies, 25 February 2017. Photo: Yaraslau Kryvoi

The Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century Conference Committee, the Ostrogorski Centre and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum invite proposals from established academics and doctoral researchers for individual papers and panel discussions on contemporary Belarusian studies. The conference is a multidisciplinary forum for Belarusian studies in the West.

Proposals will be considered on any subject matter pertaining to Belarus. This year, however, proposals relating to human rights, social media, education, the history of the Belarusian People’s Republic, Belarusian history and culture and sociology are particularly encouraged. A selection of peer-reviewed papers will be published in the Journal of Belarusian Studies in 2018.

As in previous years, in addition to the conference, which will be held 23–24 March 2018 at University College London, several other Belarus-related events will take place in London. The 2018 conference will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic, the first modern attempt of Belarusian statehood, as well as the 10th anniversary of Belarus Digest.

To submit a paper or panel proposal, please complete an online registration form  by 15 December 2017. Successful candidates will be notified by 5 January 2018. The working language of the conference is English.

There is a £10GPB registration fee associated with the conference. You may pay the fee at the door or pay online (see the registration form for details). If a speaker or delegate is unable to pay the registration fee, the organisers can grant them a waiver. Please email belauk2018@gmail.com to ask for a fee waiver.

The organisers can provide non-UK based applicants with invitation letters for visas.

For any questions, please contact either Stephen Hall or Peter Braga at belauk2018@gmail.com.

Conference co-chairs: Professor Andrew Wilson and Professor Yarik Kryvoi

Comments in the media

Ryhor Astapenia on Polish Radio discusses the hype around the West 2017 drills, the future of mass youth political organisations, and the possibility of political and social protests this autumn.

Siarhei Bohdan on Polish Radio explains why Belarus refused to transport oil products via Russian ports even at a 50% discount. Russian ports require longer delivery time; Belarus has experience in the Baltic countries and invested in their infrastructure; in addition, it is one of the channels of cooperation with the European Union.

Pubic discussions on Asmaloŭka area. Photo: euroradio.fm

Alesia Rudnik on Polish radio discusses the effectiveness of civil campaigns in Belarus on the example of Asmaloŭka area protection. This became not the only success story of local activists, but usually victory is possible only if the project is not essential for the authorities. In most cases, civil campaigns fail.

Siarhei Bohdan on Polish Radio discusses the role of Russia and China in the development of the Belarusian defense industry. Last year Belarus exported arms worth $1 billion. This achievement is the result of complicated partnerships with major players. Russian support of Minsk in the defense industry is limited and expensive, therefore Minsk had to to seek an alternative and develop cooperation with China.

Belarus Profile

The BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following people: Alieh Dvihalioŭ, Jury Šuliejka, Mikalaj Korbut, Vitaĺ Paŭlaŭ,  Uladzimir Karpiak, Andrej Dapkiunas, Alieh Dziarnovič, Valieryja Kasciuhova, Piotr Rudkoŭski, Natallia Vasilievič.

We have also updated the profiles of Siarhiej Hurulioŭ, Anatoĺ Isačenka, Ivonka Survila, Paviel Uciupin, Anatoĺ Kapski, Victor Prokopenia, Aliaksandr Pazniak, Jury Chaščavacki, Siarhiej Čaly, Kanstancin Šabieka, Aliaksandr Šamko, Aliaksandr Šumilin, Uladzimir Šymaŭ, Aliaksiej Jahoraŭ, Aliaksandr Jarašenka.

Belarus Policy

The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:

Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by emailing us.

The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian StudiesBelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.




War games, integration of integrations, EBRD investments – Belarus state press digest

Alexander Lukashenka states that the West 2017 drills proved successful and that attempts to discredit them were extremely unprofessional. According to the Belarusian MFA, a block mentality must become a thing of the past; the country refuses to make a choice between East and West.

Belarus is about to become the largest potash producer in the world. The government is in the final stages of preparing laws aimed at developing entrepreneurship. The EBRD claims it has reached a ‘strategic level of cooperation’ with Belarus and is considering new investment projects.

This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.

Politics and security

On 20 September the joint Belarusian-Russian strategic exercises West-2017 came to an end. Alexander Lukashenka was personally in charge of the final stages of the event and later answered journalists’ questions, published by Belarus Segodnia. According to him, the exercises have achieved the goals they set out. Both the armed forces and the territorial defence system of the country were improved.

Responding to the fact that the presidents of Belarus and Russia observed the manoeuvrers separately, Lukashenka replied: ‘Well, if the shell hits one place, both of us will be gone at once … We agreed that since the main phase was to take place here, while very large exercises were also held in the Leningrad Region, the President of Russia will monitor the drills in the north, and me in the centre.’

As for speculations that Russian troops would stay in Belarus after the exercise ends, Lukashenka promised he would gladly comment on this after all the troops return to their places of permanent deployment. Yet it is already clear that this attempt to discredit the exercises was extremely unprofessional.

Lukashenka at the final stage of West 2017. Photo: sb.by

Belarus calls for a union from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Narodnaja Hazieta quotes a speech by Belarusian deputy foreign minister Alieh Kraŭčanka at the Minsk Dialogue conference dedicated to the future of the Eastern Partnership. The fact that Belarus maintains a strategic alliance with Russia does not mean that it is avoiding developing relations with the European Union and the United States. This block mentality must become a thing of the past; the country refuses to choose between East and West.

The EU and the EEA should begin technical dialogue aimed at harmonising standards and solving existing problems. After a summit in Brussels in November, Belarus expects a more pragmatic Eastern Partnership, by which it means better access to European markets, simplification of customs relations, and further development of infrastructure facilities.

The Second European Games will give a ‘powerful ideological impulse to Belarusian society’. The largest sports event in the history of Belarus will take place on 21-30 June 2019, reports Narodnaja Hazieta. Preparations for the event include significant development of sports infrastructure: development of Dynamo stadium, which will turn into a multifunctional complex, a new building for the Republican Scientific and Practical Sports Centre, the Centre of Gymnastics and a multi-field game gym, and a new 25-level dormitory in the Student Village.

Despite Belarus’s experience of hosting other international competitions, the organisers of the Games are expecting it to be a serious challenge. Belarus has seen no event of this scale: about 11,000 participants will come to the forum. As president Lukashenka pointed out, ‘The European Games should give a powerful ideological impulse to our society, consolidating the nation even more … We must bring the nation, the country, and the state to the highest stage of development, and the Games should do a lot achieve this.’

Economy

The government is in the final stages of preparing laws aimed at developing entrepreneurship among citizens. The government will submit a total of 10 documents for the President’s consideration by 1 October, reports Belarus Segodnia. These documents seek to promote self-employment and improve living conditions in small and medium-sized settlements.

Alexander Lukashenka recently met with the country’s ministers to discuss the first three laws; he generally approved them.  These laws would go far to facilitate the process of opening and managing businesses. In particular, they would expand the list of businesses that citizens can open without registration, paying only a single tax.

Belarus will soon become the largest potash producer in the world. Currently, the state-owned potash company Belaruskali is working on the construction of two mining and processing plants, called Petrykaŭ and Liubań, along with the currently operating Starobin plant. The company estimates the volume of potash at the Petrykaŭ deposit to be 2.2 billion tonnes, writes Respublika. This will be enough for production of 1.5 million tonnes yearly for about 90 years. After the commission of the new ore-dressing plants, Belarus will become the largest potash producer in the world.

According to Ivan Halavaty, following the break with the Russian company Uralkali in 2013, Belaruskali and the Belarusian Potash Company gained prestige among buyers and producers worldwide. ‘They are self-sufficient companies that can carry out their activities independently. Therefore, I do not consider a new alliance with the Russian company necessary’, he said.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Suma Chakrabarti. Photo: sb.by

EBRD has reached a ‘strategic level of cooperation’ with Belarus. Aliaksandr Lukashenka met with the President of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, Suma Chakrabarti, to discuss the EBRD strategy for Belarus for 2016-2019. It includes expansion of operations in the public sector and assistance in the implementation of infrastructure projects. The EBRD could participate in the organisation of the southern transport corridor in Belarus.

The Bank already has experience in supporting road construction projects, one of which is the modernisation of the Hrodna-Minsk highway. Now, the Belarusian government is discussing the construction of a wider highway in the south of the country to attract commodity flows from China, Central Asia, and Russia. In the near future, the bank plans to invest up to €200m in Belarus and, in particular, to become a shareholder in Belinvestbank.

Social

Police advocates restriction of alcohol sale hours. The Ministry of Internal Affairs wants to ban the sale of alcohol at night not (in stores only), but also at gas stations, writes Sielskaja Hazieta. Alieh Karasej, Head of the Department of Prevention of the Ministry, recently revealed sad statistical findings: 80% percent of murders and incidences of grievous bodily harm are committed in a state of intoxication. Family members and relatives of alcoholics are the primary victims. However, compared to figures from ten years ago, the situation today has improved somewhat. Previously, 300 relatives of alcohol abusers perished annually, while today the number stands at about one hundred.

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.




West-2017 smaller than NATO drills, loan from Russia, future of Minsk – Belarus state press digest

Belarusian military officials insist that Belarus has never accused anybody of aggression despite the fact that the West-2017 military drill will be smaller that that of NATO in Poland.

Belarus sees a significant shift towards exports of raw materials over the past two decades, especially in trade with the EU. Russia receives interest from loans to Belarus at twice the rate of investments in US debt obligations.

Minsk mayor reveals development plans: the city will become denser, but without major increase in malls and hotels. This and more in the new edition of the Belarus State Press Digest

Foreign policy and security

Lukashenka meets with top security officials. On 5 September, President Alexander Lukashenka held a meeting with the  Security Council, writes Zviazda.  He inquired about the results of the season’s harvest, the problem of receivables, and the situation surrounding West-2017 exercises. Officials reported that harvesting went without major problems due to the good work of law enforcement bodies.

Foreign distribution networks now owe more than $500m to Belarusian companies, and the government is now trying to find solutions to this problem. Regarding West-2017, Lukashenka stated that ‘We have a joint army group of Belarus and Russia pointed in the western direction and we need to train it to fight. But we are not going to attack anyone’.

West 2017 military drill will be smaller that of NATO in Poland. First Deputy Minister of Defence Alieh Bielakoneŭ revealed details of the West-2017 military exercises, which were published in Belarus Segodnia. In order to prevent tension in relations with neighbouring countries, the authorities chose to hold the drills far from the state border. The total number of military personnel involved will reach 12,700; the drills will also involve 370 armoured vehicles, up to 150 artillery units, multiple launch rocket systems, and more than 40 aircraft and helicopters.

Bielakoneŭ noted that all major parameters of last year’s multinational NATO exercise, Anaconda-2016, exceeded those of West-2017. Furthermore, the upcoming NATO drill – Dragon 2017 – will be held in Poland in a month and will feature a total of about 17,000 soldiers. Despite these facts, Belarus does not accuse its neighbours of aggressive behaviour.

Photo: sb.by

Belarus wants to engage in extraction of Afghanistan natural resources. For most Belarusians, Afghanistan does not enjoy a positive image, and the official visit of Afghan Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah to Belarus in August did not attract much public attention. However, an economic partnership with this state could be highly profitable, explains Narodnaja Hazieta. Afghanistan possesses natural wealth – mostly in the form of metals – worth almost a trillion dollars.

However, due to the country’s mountainous desert terrain, absence of infrastructure, and lack of professional staff, extraction projects will require tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars of investment. Belarus will not be able to compete with big players there and would do well to work in tandem with countries such as China or India.

Economy

Belarus has become a raw material economy. Over the last six months Belarusian exports have increased by 19.4% compared to the same period in 2016, reports Respublika. However, growth occurred only due to services – mainly computer and transport – rather than goods: while goods gave a minus of $1bn, services brought a plus of $1.4bn. According to a study by the IPM Research Centre on the export performance of Belarus in 1998-2016, the country has seen a significant shift towards export of raw materials.

80% of exports to the EU consist of fuel, timber, chemical products and metals; even these exports are steadily declining. While in Belarus raw materials and consumer goods dominate exports (51% of total volume), in Hungary and the Czech Republic capital and intermediate goods account for 55% and 58% of sales to foreign markets.

Russia repays Belarusian debt. Recently, the Russian government approved the allocation of a $700m loan to Belarus to repay a previous debt. Soyuz asked Russian analyst Kirill Koktysh what this would mean for the country. According to him, this is a regular debt restructuring. The fall in oil prices caused a decrease in export income in both Russia and Belarus, but due to the smaller size of  the latter’s economy, Belarus took a greater hit.

Finding new sources of income will take some time. For example, a significant increase in Belarusian agricultural production has become visible only now, although the government has been investing in it heavily for many years. Meanwhile, the credit history of Belarus remains flawless, and Russia received twice higher interest from loans to Belarus than the interest from the money invested in US debt obligations.

Prime Minister of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah visits Amkador company in August 2017. Photo: Belta

Public policy

Belarus needs a population strategy. In 2016, for the first time in 20 years, Belarus saw an increase in population. The country has one of the lowest levels of maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. However, about 63% of Belarusian families remain single-child families. However, for a nation’s population to grow, most families need to have three children.

The number of women of childbearing age is decreasing, while teenagers dream of pleasure, career, travel, and high salaries rather than a large family. More than one hundred institutions provide assistance to mothers and children, and the state has developed a proper family support system, so now the government needs to gently correct the attitudes of young people towards reproduction, writes Belarus Segodnia.

Minsk will become denser, but without major increase in malls and hotels. Andrej Šorac, the mayor of Minsk, told journalists at Belarus Segodnia about development plans for the Belarusian capital. The city will not be expanding outwardly, instead opting for infill: using empty, inefficiently used, and industrial areas inside the Minsk ring road. The mayor expressed scepticism about the future of the so called satellite towns around Minsk, which were supposed to attract city dwellers. Developers will not invest in them as long as possibilities to construct housing inside Minsk remain.

The city has also approached its limit for retail trade zoning and hotels per capita. The idea of removing car traffic from the city centre and making it pedestrian should be considered carefully, as the Belarusian mentality requires comfortable and effective transportation. Nevertheless, some streets will certainly become restricted for cars, the mayor said.

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.




Harassment against lawyers, Congress of Belarusian Studies, IdeaLab – Belarus civil society digest

Belarusian human rights defenders agree on joint principles of human rights work. Statkievič released after 5 days in jail. MOJ denies registration of United Civic Party’s women’s branch. BAJ assesses openness of governmental institutions for journalists.

24-hour carnival completes Vulica Brasil Urban Art Festival. Golden Age University in Hrodna opens enrollment of senior students for 9th round of informal education and activism program..

7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies releases its agenda with almost two dozens academic sections.

This and more in the new edition of Belarus civil society digest.

Human rights

Principles of human rights work in Belarus released. Over 70 Belarusian human rights activists took part in the creation of the document to avoid contradictions between the people involved in the protection of human rights. The document presents a set of professional and ethical principles determining the requirements for human rights defenders and their professional activities and open for accession.

Human rights activists alarmed over new wave of harassment against lawyers. The Ministry of Justice reportedly ordered an extraordinary certification of a number of lawyers, which may void the licenses of some of them, including those involved in politically motivated cases. According to HRC Viasna’s Head Alieś Bialiacki, the pressure is related to the authorities’ fear of possible social protests.

Opposition activist Mikalaj Statkievič released after 5 days in jail, on 31 August. It was not ruled out that he would stay in jail for 15 more days for the protest action that took place in Minsk in July. This way, he would miss the street protest scheduled on 8 September.

На старт! Увага! Марш! Мы пачынаем дзевяты навучальны сезон УЗВ!

Golden Age University participants. Photo: uzv.by

The Justice Ministry again refused to register a UCP women’s organisationGender Partnership, which is the women’s organisation of the United Civil Party (UCP), applied for registration in the form of a public organisation. This was not the first attempt to register.

Human Rights Situation in Belarus: July 2017. According to the monthly monitoring of HRC Viasna, in July, there were cases of administrative penalties, including the detentions. At the same time, there were a number of positive developments like the 4th round of the EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels and the parallel Civil Society Forum in Minsk on the eve of the 26th Annual Session of the OSCE PA.

Media

BAJ assessed openness of governmental institutions for journalists. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) survey, the most open state bodies are the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Court system, and the Ministry of Sports and Tourism. The least open institutions in the country are the Operative and Analytical Centre at the President, the Ministry of Information, and the KGB.

1st Belarusian media hackathon IdeaLab will be held on 7-8 October. During a two-day event, journalists and civic activists will work together on media projects. Professional journalists, infographers, and designers will help to project teams. IdeaLab is organised in the framework of the joint project of the IBB School of Journalism, Practical Competences Studio NGO, the Third Sector Centre NGO and others.

Culture

24-hour carnival completes Vulica Brasil festival. On 2 September, the gala Carnival on Oktyabrskaya street in Minsk closed the 4th Urban Art Festival Vulica BrasilBrazilian Street. The festival was held from 17 August  to 3 September  and traditionally added new murals from Brazilian graffiti artists to the streets of Minsk. The festival’s initiator is the Embassy of Brazil in cooperation with a number of Belarusian civil initiatives.

(Not)Shot Poetry project launches open lectures. On 1 September, the music portal Tuzinfm.by organises the first of 12 weekly lectures dedicated to outstanding Belarusian poets, shot on 29 October 1937. The lectures are held under (Not)Shot Poetry project that has also released a music compilation of 12 songs on the lyrics of the poets, killed in the Stalin’s era.

DranikFest in Mahilioŭ. Organised by the Centre for Urban Initiatives for the third time, the fest of national Belarusian food – potatoes’ pancakes (draniki) will be held on 30 September, in Mahilioŭ. To participate in the competition part, one needs to gather a team of 2-5 people and has a bag of potatoes. The fest also includes an entertaining program with live music, dances, and games.

Local and green activism

Golden Age University recruits for 9th round. Starting from 2010, the program of non-formal education and civic activity is open to Hrodna residents of 55+. The agenda includes over 40 different courses, public lectures, and integration activities. Traditionally, the University is organised by Practical Competencies Studio/Third Sector Centre NGO (Hrodna).

 Hackathon of social projects. On 16-17 September, The 10th Social Weekend contest invites to take part in Hackathon aimed to develop non-profit projects useful for society. The prize fund is $2,500 and the opportunity to get directly to the semi-final of Social Weekend 10. The previous social Hackathon gathered over 200 participants and generated 60 ideas.

The Seventh International Conference in Economics and Finance, Minsk. Photo: beroc.by

Good Neighbor. The Office of European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) is launching a series of workshops with activists who will share their experience of solving local problems in various fields. The first event is held on 12 September, in Minsk and dedicated to the eco-friendly entrances and yards. The project is implemented with the support of the U.S. Embassy Small Grants Program.

II International Cycling Festival is held on 19-20 August near Minsk. The festival aims to support the development of cycling in Belarus and unite representatives of the cycle industry, Belarusian cycling organisations and initiatives and just fans of two-wheeled vehicles. The event is designed as eco-friendly. Organisers are the Velodisko project and the Minsk Cycling Society.

Conferences

7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies releases agenda. The agenda includes almost two dozens of sections on topical issues of Belarusian politics, culture, and society. The Congress is an annual meeting of Belarusian and foreign scholars and experts, involved in studying Belarus. The 7th Congress will be held on 15-17 September in Warsaw, Poland and expects up to 600 participants.

7th International Conference in Economics and Finance took place in Minsk on 26 August. Organised by the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), the annual conference has become an important event stimulating economic research and professional discourse on the problems in the economy not only in Belarus but also worldwide.

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.




West 2017, Belarus-China, Mahilioŭ region study – digest of Belarusian analytics

Belarus in Focus: Minsk will show a lot but not everything in West 2017 military drills. Yauheni Preiherman analyses strategic advances and economic hopes of Belarus-China relations. Grigory Ioffe: Belarus’s independent voice is growing louder.

IPM Research Center’s macroeconomic forecast for Belarus: recovery will continue, but its pace is slow. Fresh CSO Sustainability Index report: Belarus remains among the countries with impeded sustainability of CSO sector. MASMI pollster: Over 60% of Belarusian cities’ inhabitants deal with charity.

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

Foreign policy and security

Russia-West Balancing Act Grows Ever More Wobbly in Belarus – The New York Times writes that over two decades, Aliaksandr Lukashenka has perfected the art of playing Russia and the West against each other. But with major Russian military exercises scheduled for September in Belarus, opposition leaders, analysts, and even the American military fear that Mr. Lukashenka’s tightrope act may be coming to a close.

 How Minsk Should Operate to Preserve Foreign Policy Stability? – Valeriya Kostyugova, Nashe Mnenie, notes that a set of recent trends in the regional policy, as well as the exhaustion of the Belarusian economic model forced Minsk to seek more foreign policy stability. Normalisation of relations with the West is a natural part of the strategy; rationalisation of relations with Russia is another essential part.

“West-2017”: Minsk Will Show a Lot But Not Everything – According to Belarus in Focus, Minsk is eager to make the September ‘West 2017’ Russian-Belarusian military exercise transparent as a manifestation of its ability to pursue an independent security policy in the region, which often goes unnoticed by the West and Ukraine, who expect from the Belarusian authorities more than they can afford.

Strategic Advances and Economic Hopes of Belarus-China Relations – Yauheni Preiherman believes that relations with China can be seen as another example of the logic of strategic hedging in Belarus’s foreign policy. In a nutshell, it aims to minimise security risks, maximise economic opportunities, and diversify its strategic options. Moreover, China can be instrumental in advancing Minsk’s relations with third countries.

Corporate interaction in the area of fight against corruption and tax evasion in the construction sector This study provides a detailed analysis of tax evasion and corruption in the construction sector in Belarus, Latvia and Finland

Situation in the Field of National Security and Defense of Belarus. June 2017 – According to the Belarus Security Blog’s monthly monitoring, June was marked with a number of events within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The experts note that because of different standards in the CSTO countries, the creation of a unified system of military equipment and weapons seems to be a complex and long process.

Toward a More Belarusian Belarus – Grigory Ioffe analyses recent developments in Belarus and reflection of media on them concludes that Belarus’s independent voice is growing louder. He gives such examples like the high-ranking Belarusian official speech at the US embassy’s reception on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations, or the PA OSCE session in Minsk.

Economy and social policy

BEROC’s Economic Outlook. First Quarter 2017. In 2017 Q1 the economy grew modestly, which contradicted to the bulk of forecasts and expectations. In comparison to the 2016 Q1, output grew by 0.3%. But structural weaknesses still overburden the economy.

Macroeconomic Forecast for Belarus – The IPM Research Center’s regular issue contains a forecast of the main macroeconomic indicators for 2017 and 2018 and analysis of their sensitivity to different scenario assumptions. Namely, the recovery will continue, but its pace is slow and depends on the consistency of domestic macroeconomic policies, implementation of the agreements on crude oil imports from Russia, and the pace of recovery in Russia.

Sociological Study of Mahilioŭ Residents – An analytical paper presents the results of a survey conducted in the spring of 2017 on topical issues of the Belarusian regional centre Mahilioŭ. The study focuses on assessment of the citizens’ well being, the level of satisfaction with various sectors of urban life, etc. In particular, Mahilioŭ residents call inflation the most urgent issue; musical fests are the most requested among cultural events.

Civil society

Assessment of the effect of the programme Leadership in Local Communities The report contains a description of the programme, methodology and results of the assessment, as well as conclusions and recommendations

Belarus Is Among Countries With Impeded Sustainability of CSO Sector – According to the 2016 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, Belarus has improved its score by 0.1 and reached 5.5. However, along with Azerbaijan (5.9) it has the worst rate among the countries of the region. The USAID’s CSOSI has been conducted since 1997. The presentation of Belarus CSOSI was on 15 August  by ACT NGO and gathered over 90 people.

Development of Environmental Friendliness in Belarus in 1990-2015 – The study is commissioned by the Environmental Solutions Center. For Belarus, this is the first attempt to collect and describe how the sphere developed. The study presents the results of sociological surveys that illustrate the actual attitude of people towards environmental issues. Namely, every fourth Belarusian thinks that she/he cares about the environment, and every fourth thinks on the contrary.

Belarus Policy

Corporate interaction in the area of fight against corruption and tax evasion in the construction sector. This study provides a detailed analysis of tax evasion and corruption in the construction sector in Belarus, Latvia and Finland. The report is based on a survey of construction companies and a study of worldwide experience. In order to understand the real situation in the sphere of shadow operations of the construction sector, the study identifies specific problems in the field of public procurement, taxation and employment in the countries studied. The conclusion of the paper provides recommendations on combating corruption and tax evasion in the construction sector of Belarus, Latvia and Finland.

Assessment of the effect of the programme Leadership in Local Communities. The programme ‘Leadership in Local Communities’ is implemented by the educational institution Office of European Expertise and Communications in partnership with the international organisation Pact since 2014. 49 people from 43 local communities of Belarus were trained in the programme. In the process of implementation, local leaders identified 142 local problems, engaged more than 4,600 people in solving them, managed to solve more than 90 local problems and continue to work with the remaining problems. 86% of those who participated in the program continue to work actively in their local communities. The report contains a description of the programme, methodology and results of the assessment, as well as conclusions and recommendations.

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.




The first 2020 presidential candidate, a split in trade unions, a visit from Chinese corporations – Belarus state press digest

The Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party nominates its deputy head, Alieh Hajdukievič, as candidate for the 2020 presidential elections and seeks to reform the parliamentary election system. The leader of the Congress of Independent Trade Unions sides with the authorities in the REP tax evasion case.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka reprimands senior officials for delays in collecting the harvest. A delegation of top Chinese corporations visits Minsk to inspect the Great Stone High Tech Park.

Lukashenka demands that the population of Belarus reach 15 million; he also demands that 300,000 citizens go to work. This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.

Domestic politics and security

Deputy head of the Liberal Democratic Party will run for president in 2020. Belarus Segodnia reported the results of the LDP party congress. The leader of the party, Siarhiej Hajdukievič, who has run for president four times, will now yield to his deputy and son, Alieh Hajdukievič. The Liberal Democratic Party has the largest membership of any political party in Belarus, with around 45,000 members. It is one of the few parties with representatives in parliament, other governmental agencies, and the business world.

In anticipation of the presidential elections, the party plans to participate in the 2018 local elections and hopes to put forward the largest possible number of candidates. The party will also lobby for a referendum on the introduction of a mixed-member proportional voting system, which will let more political groups into parliament and strengthen the country’s political culture and democracy.

Leader of the Congress of Independent Trade Unions sides with the authorities in the REP tax evasion case. Narodnaja Hazieta discussed the recent arrests of the leaders of the Independent Trade Union of the Radio Electronic Industry (REP) on tax evasion charges. While civil society claims that the authorities are repressing REP for political reasons, the investigation denies any political pretext, calling it a purely economic crime.

The article quotes the head of the Congress of Independent Trade Unions, Aliaksandr Jarašuk, who accuses the Danish trade union 3F of selective cooperation with Belarusian organisations and thus splitting the independent trade union movement. He claims that REP was involved in ‘dirty business’ and that he will not criticise the authorities for the criminal charges brought against REP.

A group of Indian citizens detained in Belarus. Photo: sb.by

How illegal migrants get to the European Union via Belarus. The number of migrants detained at the Belarusian border for illegal attempts to cross is on the rise, reports Respublika. The majority of migrants arrive in Russia and then travel to Belarus from there, taking advantage of the free customs agreement. They use GPS navigation systems to cross borders or pay smugglers who arrange their transportation to the EU. The profiles of such immigrants are varied, and include a significant numbers of student who ‘care not about knowledge, but a better life in the EU.’

Border control agencies have successfully identified the major routes for illegal migration and have the situation under control. Border control forces are also supported by voluntary, ‘patriotic’ border squads from the local population who identify and report suspicious travellers to border control agents.

Economy

Delayed harvest puts senior management in hot water. Despite the fact that agricultural enterprises have everything they need to operate, the latest reports reveal that 30% of them have violated technical regulations and will thus fall short of the normal harvest, reports Belarus Segodnia. Aliaksandr Lukashenka warned top executives not to attempt to use ‘bad climate’, data on infrastructural barriers, or other ‘systemic challenges’ as excuses.

He reprimanded senior executives for failing to fulfil their managerial responsibilities and mandated that the governors of three southern regions, Brest, Homiel, and Hrodna, reach the target harvesting goals – higher than in the previous years – ‘even at the cost of death’. Urging the senior executives to address poor management immediately, Lukashenka underlined the need to put to work ‘7-8% of non-functioning equipment nationally’ and ensure that the required financial and administrative support to achieve the harvesting goals is in place.

 

Top Chinese corporations consider the potential of the Great  Stone High Tech Park. A delegation of the heads of the largest Chinese corporations, led by the Chairman of Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of China’s State Council, visited Minsk to discuss investment projects. The delegations focused on the opportunities afforded by the Belarusian-Chinese Great Stone High-Tech Park.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka suggested that the delegation set up high-tech military enterprises at the park. The parties also agreed to establish an investment fund in order to attract residents to the park, as well as provide market research and training for park employees. The Belarusian president underlined that Belarus and China are not ‘ganging up’ against anyone and are not violating the stability of the region.

Картинки по запросу Сяо Яцин

Chairman of Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of China’s State Council Xiao Yaqing at the Belarusian Automotive Plant. Photo: Belaz.by

Belarus develops a strategy to deal with nuclear waste. The construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant is causing concerns regarding the future of nuclear waste management, writes Respublika. According to the National Nuclear Waste Management protocol, radioactive waste will be kept in special storage in Belarus, while used nuclear fuel, which is less radioactive, will be reprocessed and shipped to Russia, its country of origin, after 10 years.

Despite concerns regarding risks, the director of the Sosny Joint Institute for Power and Nuclear Research, Michail Žamžuraŭ, has stated that over the years Belarus has gained adequate experience in waste management and its practices are now up to international standards. Russian consulting companies are helping to develop their strategy, with the first disposal site expected to be designated by 2028.

Social policy

Lukashenka demands that the population of Belarus increase to 15 million. After listening to a government report on the demographic situation in the country, the Belarusian president stated that Belarus has the capacity to maintain a population of 20 million, and reaching 15 million should  be a future target. This will ensure the economic security and power of Belarus, reports Soyuznoye Veche.

Lukashenka has also ordered 300,000 citizens to get to work. ‘We have half a million people who do not work. 200,000 of them are families with many children, the disabled, or the ill, whom we can leave alone. But where are the remaining 300,000? We must force them to work’, Lukashenka said.




Plans to transform the old economy into a new IT-economy – digest of the Belarusian economy

According to Belstat, Belarus’s official statistical agency, in the first half of the year the Belarusian economy sped up, improving four months in a row.

Meanwhile, on 17 July 2017, the authorities announced plans to transform Belarus’s IT-sector into a full-fledged economic driver, aiming to create new jobs and increase tax revenues.

Finally, on 25 July 2017, the government announced a new modernization strategy for the manufacturing industry – the plan involves building a new tractor factory.

Economic growth: rising from the ashes

In the first half of the year, GDP growth was 1 per cent. By year-end however, GDP growth should reach 1.7 per cent according to the official forecast (see Figure 1). Industrial production has increased by 6.1 per cent and exports of goods by 23 per cent (in January-May).

As a result of these positive half-year economic figures, the government has started to think about new drivers of economic growth. However, according to the First Deputy Minister of Finance, Maxim Ermolovich, artificial stimulation of the economy (through the budget or monetary policy of the National Bank) should not be considered an economic policy tool.

The IT-economy: thinking about a prosperous future

On 17 July 2017, the authorities announced plans to transform Belarus’s IT-sector into a full-fledged economic driver. At present, approximately 30,000 IT-specialists work in the country, providing about $1bn of foreign exchange earnings annually. The average IT-specialist, with a salary of $1,500, delivers twice as much tax revenue as the average non-IT worker.

Although these plans are still only on paper, the authorities have already hammered out the main ideas of their new revolutionary presidential decree for the IT-sector.

The most significant changes have to do with the following issues: first, the decree opens up the Belarusian IT-market for new companies from high-tech industries (electronics, machine engineering, medicine, and biotechnology) and foreign organisations (for example, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple) which monetise IT-products through advertising and paid subscriptions.

Second, the decree creates the necessary legal basis for opening a centre for scientific and technological development of driverless cars in Belarus. What’s more, the decree would allow said cars to navigate on Belarusian roads.

Third, the decree aims to develop educational activities in the IT-field, such as teaching modern IT-subjects in English in universities and schools.

Fourth, the decree opens up the Belarusian market for international investment funds and venture capital organisations. In particular, it would liberalise economic legislation in the event of bankruptcy of an IT-project – this measure would limit investor obligations in terms of their invested money, but not their entire property.

Fifth, the decree intends to create favourable conditions not only for Belarusian IT-specialists, but also to poach talent from Ukrainian and Russian IT companies. For example, the decree simplifies the procedure for obtaining a residence permit for qualified foreign IT-specialists and introduces long-term visas for them.

Finally, the decree would introduce cryptocurrency into civil circulation (the consumer market).

Thus, the government plans to create new jobs and increase tax revenue. According to experts, state tax revenue from IT may increase by two or three times if the number of IT-specialists in the country triples.

Manufacturing: promoting a new tractor factory

On 25 July 2017, President Lukashenka decided the fate of the Belarusian tractor industry at a meeting: the government would organise the production of new technologically advanced types of heavy tractor. However, in recent years, this manufacturing sector has shown substantial decline.

Over the past five years, the production volume of tractors in Belarus has decreased by half, from 71,000 to 34,400 units (see Figure 2). The amount of people employed by MTZ (the Belarusian tractor producer) has shrunk by a quarter. Likewise, exports have also decreased significantly – from $1bn in 2012 to only $425m in 2016.

The decline in exports of Belarusian tractors (90% go to foreign markets) was mainly caused because the primary market (Russia) has in recent years experienced recession (due to reduced oil revenues). Therefore, subsidies for the purchase of agricultural machinery (including Belarusian) has also decreased.

In 2017, the export of Belarusian tractors finally began to grow. According to Belstat, in January-May tractor sales increased by 12.2 per cent in comparison with the same period last year, mainly due to improvements in the Russian market.

Thus, Russian subsidies for agriculture have reached $1bn, providing buyers a discount (from 15% to 20%) for agricultural machinery, including purchase of tractors assembled in Belarus.

According to the Director of the IPM Research Center, Alexander Chubrik, the Belarusian authorities plan to take advantage of the recovery of the Russian market to accelerate economic growth. One of their primary strategies will be establishing production of new tractor models.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashka, this project could cost around $300m-350m, financed by Chinese credit resources. However, the use of Chinese loans may not please Russian partners, who may rethink the subsidies for new tractor models.

Thus, Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Scientific and Industrial Association Georgy Grits has proposed joint production with Russia (which already has factories for such tractors). This would provide favourable conditions for the sales of the new Belarusian tractors on the Russian market.

All things considered, the positive external economic conditions have helped the authorities get back on a path of economic growth. However, the economy still lacks new drivers for economic growth which could more than double GDP growth. The new tractor factory remains a project for the Old Economy while the new IT-economy still seems a distant prospect.

Aleh Mazol, Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)

This article is a part of a joint project between Belarus Digest and Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)




Arms deals, Ostrogorski Forum videos, economic forecasts – Ostrogorski Centre digest

In July, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed arms deals between Belarus and Russia, developments in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations and the smear campaign against Svetlana Alexievich in the Russian media.

We also uploaded video recordings of the Ostrogorski Forum 2017 – a conference on Belarus-EU relations, security, and identity that took place in Minsk in June.

The Belarus Policy database was updated with several economic papers, as well as analyses on human rights and education.

Ostrogorski Forum 2017

On 19 June, the Ostrogorski Centre held its 2nd Ostrogorski Forum, entitled ‘Belarus in the new environment: challenges to foreign policy, security, and identity after 2014’. The conference featured widely-respected experts with both independent and pro-government views and was aimed at establishing a respectful dialogue. You can see videos of each of the three panels with names of the speakers below.

Panel 1. The normalisation of relations between Belarus and the EU after 2014: results and problems.

Speakers:

Andrej Liachovič, director of the Centre for Political Education

Sergey Kizima, Head of the Department of International Relations at the Academy of Public Administration

Moderator – Valier Karbalievič, expert at Strategy Analytical Centre

Panel 2. National security and defence of Belarus in conditions of economic crisis and rising international tension: achievements and failures.

Speakers:

Alexander Gelogaev, military commentator

Aliaksandr Špakoŭski, head of the Current Concept project

Dzianis Mieljancoŭ, senior analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies

Moderator – Aliaksandr Aliesin, military commentator

Panel 3. The official policy of identity after 2014: has ‘soft Belarusianisation’ been implemented?

Speakers:

Vadzim Mažejka, expert at the Liberal Club

Andrej Dyńko, chief editor of NN.BY portal

Piotra Piatroŭski, researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of NAS of Belarus

Moderator – Valier Bulhakaŭ, chief editor of ARCHE Journal

Analytics

Siarhei Bohdan analysed the recent arms deals between Belarus and Russia. At first glance, Russia seems to be arming Minsk. This fits with conjectures that the Kremlin is becoming increasingly hawkish and Minsk and Moscow are colluding to put their regional and Western opponents under pressure.

However, a more scrupulous analysis of such arms deals and the armaments the Belarusian army already possesses paints a different picture. Moscow refuses to bolster the steadily declining Belarusian military’s capacity to conduct offensive operations, including joint large-scale operations with Russia.

Alesia Rudnik discusses the smear campaign initiated against Svetlana Alexievich in the Russian media. The sharp reaction from Russian media outlets and politicians can be explained by the fact that many of her statements relate to ‘sore points’ of Russian politics: the war in Ukraine and Russia’s role in it, the promotion of the concept of the ‘Russian World’, and confrontation with the West.

Alexievich, who writes in Russian, has made statements that completely contradict official Russian propaganda. Many public figures in Russia perceive this as a threat or an attempt to change Russian public opinion on issues important to the Putin regime.

According to Igar Gubarevich’s article, Lukashenka’s recent visit to Kyiv demonstrates 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 jeopardise Ukraine’s security. In return, Ukraine understands that it cannot realistically expect more than neutrality from Belarus 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.

Comments in the media

On the Political Mirror programme on Polish radio, Ostrogorski Centre analyst Ryhor Astapenia discussed whether Minsk managed to gain the sympathy of western states, the possibility of the Belarusian military joining international peacekeeping missions, and how arrests of top officials and businessmen help improve the economic situation in Belarus.

On Polish radio, Igar Gubarevich discussed the state of Belarusian-Moldovan relations. Despite recent setbacks in bilateral trade, Moldova remains an important economic partner for Belarus in the post-Soviet space. Unlike Russia, Belarus has no objection to the geopolitical orientation of Moldova towards Europe. On the contrary, Minsk seeks to use this factor to its own advantage.

On Radio Liberty, Siarhei Bohdan discussed the political implications of the new brand of Lidskaje beer, which features a map of the Belarusian Popular Republic. According to Siarhei, it creates a destructive political myth and drives the debate on the BPR project into a populist and revisionist direction.

Belarus Policy

The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:

Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by emailing us.

The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian StudiesBelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.




Are Relations With Europe Back to Normal? – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest

The Belarusian government’s crackdown on peaceful protests in early spring failed to markedly affect its contacts with the West.

In June-July, the intensity of Belarus’s diplomatic dialogue with Europe was probably at its highest point in the last several years. However, Western leaders are still in no hurry to negotiate directly with President Lukashenka.

The authorities took advantage of the high-level meetings of the CEI and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk to promote their vision of Belarus as a responsible international player and regional mediator. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will discourage the West from focusing on issues of democracy.

Exploiting international forums

Belarusian diplomats have been actively exploiting the country’s rotating presidency in certain multilateral organisations, as well as Minsk’s potential status as a venue for international events, to boost Belarus’s image abroad and revamp bilateral ties.

Belarus has been doing its best to get the most out of its presidency in the Central European Initiative in 2017. This attitude stands in a stark contrast to its earlier apathy towards the activities of this loosely structured discussion club.

On 8 June, Minsk hosted a high-level meeting entitled ‘Promoting Connectivity in the CEI Region: Bridging the Gap between Europe and Asia’. The CEI participant countries, along with China and EAEU member states, focused on transport and logistics in correlation with the Silk Road initiative.

On 22 June, senior diplomats from the CEI countries gathered in Minsk for their annual meeting. Only six countries out of eighteen were represented by their foreign ministers. The final communiqué dealt mostly with the European aspirations of certain Western Balkan states and some Eastern Partnership countries. Alexander Lukashenka, who did not miss the opportunity to meet with top foreign diplomats, underscored the importance of ‘integration of integrations’, his pet idea.

On 5-9 July, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held its annual session in Minsk. The Belarusian authorities took this opportunity to interpret the choice of Minsk as a confirmation of Belarus’s status as a ‘pole of stability’ in the region. They also used it to promote Lukashenka’s idea of a ‘Helsinki-2 process’.

Belarusian diplomats managed to circumvent any reference to the human rights situation in Belarus in the final declaration of the session. However, four of six Belarusian MPs voted in favour of the Minsk Declaration, which also condemned Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. The Belarusian foreign ministry did not fail to present this staged voting as proof of pluralism in the Belarusian parliament.

Reaching out to the developing world

The Belarusian authorities are seeking to diminish the country’s economic dependence on Russia by boosting Belarus’s trade with the so called ‘Distant Arc’ countries.

On 6-7 June, Minsk hosted a new forum called ‘Belarus and Africa: New Frontiers’ with participation of over seventy delegates from about twenty African countries. So far, Africa remains the least cultivated market for Belarusian exporters and manufacturers.

Lukashenka, speaking as an observer at the Astana summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on 9 June, sought to persuade members of the organisation to strengthen the economic dimension of its activities, claiming that this would eventually help combat terrorism.

On 29 June, Lukashenka received his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang in Minsk. Belarus and Vietnam will seek to increase their turnover fourfold, from $121m in 2016 to half a billion in a few years’ time. Alongside more traditional Belarusian exports to developing countries, several innovative Belarusian high-tech companies are seeking to localise the assembly of their products in Vietnam.

On 26-28 June, Georges Rebelo Pinto Chicoti, the Angolan minister for external relations, visited Belarus. The two countries agreed to establish a joint trade commission and explore the viability of setting up knock-down assembly of Belarusian tractors in Angola.

In June and July, Belarus also held political and economic consultations on the deputy foreign minister level with Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, India, Laos, and Vietnam.

Maintaining intensive dialogue with Europe

Alexander Lukashenka recently ordered his diplomats to ‘literally sink [their] teeth into the European market’. Indeed, economic issues prevailed on the agenda of the foreign ministry’s senior officials as they met with their EU counterparts.

On 13-14 June, foreign minister Vladimir Makei visited Madrid. Belarus and Spain agreed to establish a joint commission on economic and industrial cooperation. The commission will first meet this autumn in Minsk.

From Madrid, Belarus's top diplomat went to Prague on 15-16 June, where he held talks with his Czech counterpart Lubomír Zaorálek and met with Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

The turnover between the two countries has been steadily falling since 2014. Speaking to media after the first ever official visit of a Belarusian foreign minister to Czechia, Makei expressed his hope that their ‘theoretical agreement will turn into concrete projects’ in bilateral relations.

On 19 June, Makei attended the annual Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in Luxembourg, where he met with several top European and EU-level diplomats. There, he derided Lithuania’s attempts to involve multilateral institutions in its bilateral problems with Belarus regarding the construction of the Astraviec NPP near their joint border.

On 21-22 June, the foreign ministers of Hungary and Slovakia, Peter Szijjarto and Miroslav Lajcak, visited Minsk. Both diplomats combined their visits with their participation in the annual meeting of the CEI foreign ministers.

Makei called Szijjarto and Lajcak his friends. Indeed, Budapest and Bratislava have maintained constant dialogue with Minsk ever since the normalisation of relations with the EU. Both countries have also been important economic partners for Belarus. However, although the Belarusian government has managed to reverse the short-lived decrease in its trade with Hungary, the turnover with Slovakia has remained in a steady free-fall since 2012 – down by 40%.

On 5 July, Lukashenka received Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, who visited Minsk as Chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lukashenka and Kurz also discussed the bilateral agenda. Austria, which has important economic interests in Belarus, is often seen as one of the regime’s strongest advocates in Europe.

On 18-20 July, Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics paid a working visit to Belarus. The two countries have maintained an annual exchange of foreign minister visits since 2013; they seek to expand ties in all areas of cooperation. Recently, Minsk and Riga secured the right to host the Ice Hockey World Championship jointly in 2021.

In recent weeks, Belarus also held political and economic consultations on the deputy foreign minister level with Austria, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Minsk hosted business delegations from Germany and Switzerland. On 6 July, President Lukashenka received a delegation of the United States Congress.

Belarusian diplomats have managed to restore the dynamics and climate of the country’s ties with Europe to the level they enjoyed prior to the Belarusian authorities’ recent crackdown on dissent. However, the full normalisation of relations with the West will require more than simply restraining from persecuting the opposition or promoting Belarus as a ‘donor of security’. President Lukashenka’s legitimacy in European capitals should be the foundation of the next stage in relations.




Alexievich’s third try, think tanks’ life, the Central European Initiative – digest of Belarusian analytics

CET releases analysis of the sector of Belarusian human rights organisations. Arseni Sivitsky dissects reasons for Belarus’ heavy rearmament with Russian help. Grigory Ioffe analyzes Svetlana Aleksievich’s public speaking. Economist Irina Tochitskaya: Belarus falls in a slow growth trap. Belarus in Focus: Minsk steps back to international and public pressure over the White Legion case. 

Natalia Ryabova sums up key trends for Belarusian independent think tanks. Liberal Club presents a study on how to stimulate the development of philanthropy and CSR in Belarus. Economist Dmitri Kruk believes that Belarus is ten years behind without reforms.

Comfortable Trap With a View to Growth – The orientation to the Russian market costs much for the Belarusian economy and the population. Over the past 18 years, the share of Belarusian producers in world exports has been steadily declining. Irina Tochitskaya, IPM Research Center, states that the country is now trapped in 'slow growth'. Belarus should decide: to get out of it or to put up with the role of an outsider.

Minsk Steps Back to International And Public Pressure Over White Legion Case – Belarus in Focus experts consider that in the White Legion case is the Belarusian authorities’ demonstration of greater adaptability and reduction of the repression-liberalization cycle in the domestic policy in order to retain positive trend in relations with the EU. Nevertheless, the White Legion case has not been closed yet.

Think Tanks' Life Will Not Become Easier in 2017 – Natalia Ryabova, SYMPA/BIPART director highlights the key trends emerged in 2016 for the Belarusian independent think tanks: cooperation with state institutions and the media as well as the specialization. In the short term, the financial conditions of most think tanks may deteriorate due to a reduction in donor funding, from which they remain highly dependent.

How to Stimulate the Development of Philanthropy and CSR in Belarus. Business View – The Liberal Club presents a study based on a survey of 12 Belarusian business companies. One of the key findings is that for the last 5 years the practice of philanthropy/CSR in Belarus has become broader and more systematic. At the same time, the Belarusian stakeholders still do not have a single approach to the key definitions of sponsorship and CSR.

Belarus and the Central European Initiative: Reading Beyond the Headlines – Yauheni Preiherman analyzes results of the recent foreign ministers’ meeting of the Central European Initiative in Minsk Belarus actively promoted itself as neutral ground for international conflict resolution negotiations. Such a neutrality-oriented identity helps the country hedge against the possibility of being dragged into political and military confrontation against its will.

Belarusian Human Rights Defenders’ View On Human Rights Activity And Questions Of Cooperation Between Belarusian Human Rights Organizations – This is a new research of the Center for European Transformation (CET) on Belarusian human rights organizations sector. One of the findings is that despite the general adverse environment for CSOs, human rights organizations and initiatives keep being rather active and their number continues to increase: from 17 organizations in 2010 to 25 in 2013.

Belarus Takes the Last Place On Number of NGOs in the Eastern Partnership – ThinkTanks.by overviews a new CET study on the Belarus' civil society. In comparison with other EaP countries, Belarus has the least number of NGOs: around 3,000 NGOs in total, i.е. 32 organizations per 100 thousand population. For example, in Armenia, there are 4,000 NGOs, while its population is almost three times less than in Belarus.

Why Belarus Heavily Rearmed With Russian Help? – Minsk has decided to engage in the rearmament of the Belarusian army, including the purchase of fighters and new missile systems. According to Arseni Sivitsky, Belarus is intensifying the process of upgrading its armed forces, Belarus strive to maintain a monopoly on military sovereignty and prevent the emergence of Russian military bases on its territory.

Svetlana Alexievich’s Third Try – Grigory Ioffe overviews a speech of Svetlana Alexievich, the Nobel Prize laureate in literature, that she gave in Brussels, at the European People’s Party Group’s hearing. Unlike her two previous attempts at public speaking in recent months, this one was not scandalous. However, the author believes that Alexievich appears too lonely and too muddled in her rhetoric to become a consolidating figure.

REFORMS REVIEW

Moody's expects Belarus’ real GDP to contract for a third consecutive year in 2017, although at a much reduced pace thanks to the renewed output and exports of refined oil products and the economic recovery in Russia, which is Belarus' main trading partner.

Macroeconomic Situation: Locked In Recession. Dmitry Kruk, for Belarusian Yearbook, reviews the Belarusian economy in 2016. Namely, the last year was the second consecutive year of economic recession. Non-competitiveness of Belarusian producers was the main reason for the decline. The economic authorities refrained from any extensive institutional changes.

Average wage of $500 is real by 2018. According to Alexander Chubrik, IPM Research Center, Belarus expects slow economic growth because of the Russian economy. After the fall in 2015, in 2016, both Russia and Belarus have started to increase their GDP. In 2018, Belarus will increase oil imports from Russia, Belarus’ GDP in dollars will increase, and salary will reach $500.

Belarus suspends talks with the IMF about a future loan program. The reason is that the International Monetary Fund, IMF and the government of Belarus have disagreements over the reform of the public sector. According to the Finance Minister of Belarus, future plans may return because the currency debt shows steady growth.

Belarusians understand that reforms are needed, but they do not want to lose their salaries. Economist Katerina Bornukova in a popular format tells what holds back officials and whether the Belarusians themselves are ready for changes.

It is likely that all 10 years – from 2010 to 2020 – will be lost. Dmitri Kruk, BEROC, states that the main trend in 2016 has become an addiction to the crisis and recession. In the absence of economic reforms, many of the sounding promises will lead to nothing.

Eurobonds: debt hole or the foundation of development? Belarus has entered the international capital market to obtain a loan in the form of Eurobonds. Economist Anton Boltochko states the importance of reforms that would contribute to the elimination of the causes of the budget deficit. If not, additional funds will be needed to return the earlier loans.

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.




Anti-corruption party, ECLAB enrolment, White Legion released, Social Business Forum – Belarus civil society digest

SYMPA/BIPART invite to an anti-corruption party. ECLAB opens student enrolment for the 2017-2018 academic year. First Social Business Forum takes place in Belarus.

Civil Society Parallel Forum is held in Minsk ahead of the 26 annual OSCE PA session. Human rights defender becomes member of the government’s penitentiary system monitoring commission.

New gender project helps Belarusian women tell their stories. All defendants in the White Legion case are released. Ministry of Economy agrees with Perspektyva’s proposals.

This and more in the new edition of the Belarus civil society digest.

Education and research

SYMPA/BIPART invites to an anti-corruption party. The thematic event is held on 10 July in Minsk. The agenda includes a presentation of the Transparent Public Procurement Rating and the place of Belarus in it; an open lecture on the monitoring public procurement in Hungary, and a study on electronic public procurement. The entrance to the event is free.

ECLAB opens accepting students for 2017-2018 academic year. European College of Liberal Arts in Belarus (ECLAB) is an informal educational institution. The college suggests the courses on public history, mass culture and media, contemporary art and theatre, etc. For three years of work, the college has over 200 graduates and held over 30 public events and exhibition projects.

Belarus In the Trap of Slow Growth: Get Out or Settle Down? seminar will take place on 30 June in Minsk. Organised by the IPM Research Centre and the Ministry of Economy, the seminar will present the results of studies on the situation of vulnerable groups in the recession period, a new concept of regional development, IPM’s macroeconomic forecast, etc. The seminar is held under the Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF.

Study on the assessment of services for people with intellectual/mental disabilities in local communities was presented on 28 June in Minsk. The study was carried out by the Prospects for Mental Health (Lithuania) in cooperation with the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Belarus). The study analyses the existing community services and resources related to de-institutionalisation at the local level.

Minsk will host a conference on academic freedom in Belarus. The conference will take place on 26 June and discuss the situation with violations of academic freedom in Belarus, such as the expulsion of from universities for civic activities, the imposition of the state ideology, etc. The organisers are Human Rights Centre Viasna, Association of Belarusian Students (ZBS) and Libereco-Partnership for Human Right.

Summer school Close Power invites participants to Białystok to get acquainted with the system of the local government of Poland and Belarus. Organised by the For Freedom movement, the school includes meetings with leadership representatives, sessions about the mechanisms of decision-making at the local level, advocacy campaigns, etc.

Local and green activism

City Show's Grand Finale. This week the City project has released the last episode. In total, 8 video episodes tell how 20 activists from 13 Belarusian cities fight for the prize fund, meeting the urban challenges and implementing their ideas in communities. The Grand Prix, a study trip to Brazil, went to the urban artist Bazinato who implements civic activism through art.

V Forum of Environmental CSOs will take place on 21-23 July near Minsk. The key theme of the 2017 Forum is Public engagement. Representatives of eco-friendly organisations and initiatives are invited to participate. The Forum will raise such topics as partnership ethics, climate change, renewable energy, etc. The organisers are Green Network, EcoDom, Bahna CSO and others.

Pain points of Minsk. 34mag.net magazine has released a list of locations in Minsk that are under threat of destruction and need protection from urban activists. The list includes Asmaloŭka district and its active locals; Baraŭliany, where the authorities plan to cut down five hectares of forest and others.

Susedzi 2017 bike marathon. The 7th International Amateur Bike Marathon Susedzi 2017 / Neighbors will be held on 15 July, at the Augustów Canal, Hrodna region. Anyone can participate in the bike marathon if he/she has a bicycle and a helmet. Gender, age, and cycling experience do not matter. The organiser is VelaHrodna local CSO.

Human rights

Human rights defender enters the commission on the penitentiary system. This is a Chairperson of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Alieh Hulak. The Republican Public Monitoring Commission at the Ministry of Justice monitors compliance with the rights of convicts by institutions that carry out punishment and implement social projects aimed at the re-socialisation and adaptation of convicts.

All defendants released in White Legion case. This week the remaining 14 people were released on recognisance in the so-called White Legion case; they have been charged with forming an illegal armed group, criminal art. 287. It was known about 31 people who were detained on the eve of the 25 March Freedom Day protest rallies. In total, they spent behind bars 1,880 days.

New gender visual project. A group of individuals has launched a visual project in Facebook allowing to Belarusian women to tell about themselves who they are, and not as they are expected to be; hashtag #такаякакесть375 (as I am). A series contains 19 stories of women, who wanted to share their looks, relationships with their breasts and bodies with the world.

Other

Civil Society Parallel Forum in Minsk. On 4 July, ahead of the 26th annual session of the OSCE PA, civil society held the parallel forum in Minsk, for the first time in the recent 13 years. The forum focused on international mechanisms in the sphere of human rights in Post-Soviet countries, the human rights situation and problems of civil society. The forum’s resolution is available.

First Belarusian Social Business Forum. On 28 June, on the International Day of Social Business, Minsk hosted the First Belarusian Social Business Forum. Organised by a number of CSOs, the day was packed with events, including speeches from representatives of Belarusian social businesses, presentations from foreign guests, informal networking, and the Social Business Alley of over 20 Belarusian social companies.

Ministry of Economy met CSO proposals. The officials agreed with a suggestion of the Perspektiva CSO that advocates the interests of small vendors. In particular, individual entrepreneurs will pay fees to the Social Protection Fund on a voluntary basis (now it's mandatory). The related draft of the presidential decree is being prepared.

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.