Trump support in Belarus, MFA staff cuts, legal education reform – Ostrogorski Centre digest

During December and January, the Ostrogorski Centre analysed the ongoing dispute between Belarus and Lithuania over the Astraviec nuclear power plant (NPP), Belarusian army reforms, and the national immigration policy.

Our analysts also commented in the media on growing support for Donald Trump among Belarusians, a 30% staff cut in the central apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, personnel renewal trends in the government establishment, and the implications for Belarus of a new escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Centre also held a conference on legal education in cooperation with the Belarusian State University’s law faculty, supported by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Minsk.

Analytics

Ryhor Astapenia analyses whether the West will join Lithuania’s crusade against Belarus’s nuclear power plant project. On the one hand, many Western politicians see Lithuania’s campaign against the Belarusian NPP as politicised and even panicked. On the other hand, perhaps thanks to Lithuania’s position, any cooperation (except on security issues) between Belarus and the West in the atomic sphere has become less feasible. Therefore, while Lithuania loses the conflict diplomatically, Belarus does not win either.

Siarhei Bohdan describes how Minsk silently builds a new army. The Belarusian government has adapted its policies in response to the Kremlin’s staunch refusal to provide Belarus with heavy weapons. Official Minsk continues to build an army better suited to its limited needs and financial constraints, while quietly discarding its Soviet-era, heavier arms without replacement. The simplification of existing army structures automatically follows, which will also reduce offensive capacities.

Alesia Rudik discusses Belarus’s immigration policy and how it perpetuates the country’s demographic crisis. In the context of low birth and high death rates, the Belarusian population can only grow through increased immigration. However, Belarus still has no clear policy to encourage labour migration. Moreover, bureaucratic procedures, such as work permits, remain difficult to obtain for the majority of foreigners apart from citizens of CIS member countries, especially Russians, who have special conditions for working in Belarus.

Reform of legal education in Belarus and the UK: the exchange of experience and vision for the future

On 28 December 2017, the Ostrogorski Centre, in cooperation with the Faculty of Law of the Belarusian State University and supported by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Minsk, conducted a conference under the title “The reform of legal education in Belarus and the UK: the exchange of experience and vision for the future.”

Здымак Ostrogorski CentreThe 16 speakers included representatives of the British Embassy, the Ministry of Education of Belarus, the Belarusian State University, Hrodno State University and Brest State University. They comprised legal academics and administrators as well as practitioners from Belarus. In addition, three speakers came from UK-based institutions, namely the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the University of Liverpool.

Conference guests included representatives of various government bodies, academics from public and private universities, as well as representatives from Belarusian NGOs (around 40 people in total). The conference proved an opportunity not only to share the experiences of Belarusian and UK-based academics, but also to help shape the debate on legal education reform in Belarus.

The Ostrogorski Centre broadcast the conference live on YouTube and Facebook, and has made videos of each panel available on its YouTube channel (links below). The conference languages were Belarusian and Russian.

Comments in the media

The Atlantic magazine quotes Yaraslau Kryvoi in its recent article about decreasing global support for Donald Trump. Belarus, however, shows the opposite trend: growing Belarusian approval for Trump likely has more to do with the American president’s leadership style than any U.S. policies. According to Yaraslau, the Belarusian leadership sees Trump as a macho leader similar to the one Belarus has itself. Like Trump, Alexander Lukashenka promotes himself as someone fighting on behalf of the people against the elite.

Igar Gubarevich on Belsat TV

Commenting to Belsat TV, Igar Gubarevich opines that the 30% staffing cut in the central apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has become a big stress for Belarusian diplomats. The Ministry’s comprehensive tasks require not only good quality experts, but also a sufficient quantity, otherwise the cuts will damage the interest of Belarus as a country.

Siarhei Bohdan, interviewed on Polish Radio, argues that the government establishment renews itself more efficiently than the opposition. It now includes completely different people than it did two decades ago. They value independent Belarus more than the Soviet Union, and MP Ihar Marzaliuk presents a good example. ‘I am convinced that Ihar Marzaliuk is not a lone wolf, but rather the tip of the iceberg, an example of generational change in the Belarusian power elite,’ says Siarhei.

On Radio Liberty, Siarhei Bohdan discusses the consequences of a new escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the role of Iran, and the implications for Belarus. In the Iranian-Saudi confrontation, Belarus has sided with the conservative Arab coalition that it thinks has a higher chance of winning, and which is clearly the wealthier side.

Belarus Policy

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

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.




The Belarus-Russia border, Asian merchants dumping cheap goods, rising fuel prices, and Chernobyl programme failures – Belarus state press digest

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka calls the Belarus-Russia border ‘the strangest border in Europe.’ Belarus’s relations with the USA demonstrate incremental improvement. The Belarusian Central Electoral Commission reports on the candidates for the 2018 local elections.

Central Asian merchants illegally gain a foothold in the Belarusian market by taking advantage of recent trade liberalisations. Belarus has to significantly raise fuel prices, because of Russian oil subsidy policies. Belarusian inhabitants of radiation-contaminated zones ignore security rules.

All of this in the fresh Belarus state press digest.

Foreign and domestic policy

Lukashenka calls the Belarus-Russia border ‘the strangest border in Europe.’ A government meeting headed by President Lukashenka discussed Belarus’s visa policy and its future development. Belarus’s recent measures to ease foreigners’ access to the country is a point of contention with Russia. Since February 2016, the Belarusian-Russian border acquired the unofficial status of being ‘the strangest border in Europe.’ Since that time, Russian has begun to exercise full passport control of all persons coming by road, air, or rail. In fact, it is no longer a possibility for a foreigner to enter Russia via Belarus.

Photo: sb.by

Over the past four years, the Belarusian authorities sent back to Russia about 230 people for readmission. Russians returned only one over the same period. This shows that Belarus pays much attention to security issues. Passport control at the border appeared inconvenient first of all to the Russians themselves. As Lukashenka stated, “Russia claims to take this step due to security reasons. But what kind of security are we talking about, if we have joint lists of foreigners who are prohibited from entering the territory of the Union State of Belarus and Russia? No one on the list can enter Belarus.”

Belarus’s relations with the USA demonstrate incremental improvement. In 2017, Belarus and the USA continued to work jointly in spheres of mutual interest, such as trade and economics, humanitarian affairs, the fight against international organised crime, and exchange programmes for professionals. Interaction between experts has also increased. In April 2017, the USA held the first ever Belarusian-American forum for small and medium-sized private companies, organised jointly with the Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship.

In June, Belarus’s national exposition opened at the eMerge Americas exhibition of high-tech in Florida, with several Belarusian business delegations visiting the states of Arkansas, New York, Oklahoma and North Dakota throughout the year. Belarus and the USA have successfully advanced cooperation in preventing the illegal transit of nuclear and radioactive materials and in fighting high-tech crime. A joint dialogue on human rights begun in 2015 has continued into 2017, writes The Minsk Times.

Belarus’s Central Electoral Commission reports on the structure of candidates for the 2018 local elections. On average, 1.2 people compete for a local deputy mandate within a district across the country, but Minsk is an exception with an average of 6 local delegates competing per district. However, many regions have constituencies with only one candidate, except for Minsk city and the Mahilioŭ region. Among the candidates, 32 are Russian citizens. 45 per cent are currently serving local deputies. About 30 per cent are representatives of education, science and culture sphere, 11 per cent work in public administration, and about 4 per cent are in trade and services. Approximately 3 per cent of the candidates are military and law enforcement officers, and individual entrepreneurs represent only 2 per cent.

As for party affiliation, the Communist Party of Belarus has nominated 333 candidates, the Liberal Democratic Party has put forward 266, the United Civil Party is fielding 78, and the Belarusian Left Party ‘Fair World’ has a modest 72. The elections seem to have woken many parties that have been dormant for some time, reports newspaper Belarus Segodnia.

Economy

Central Asian merchants illegally gain a foothold in the Belarusian market by taking advantage of recent trade liberalisations. In 2017, clothing stores with surprisingly low prices began to pop-up across the country, reports Belarus Segodnia. There are already almost 80 of these cut-price stores in the regions. The capital, Minsk, has only two. All of the stores belong to merchants from Central Asia. The stores quickly became popular. Meanwhile, Belarusian businessmen started to express concerns. They complained that foreign merchants were stealing their customers and obviously dumping cheap goods to overwhelm the Belarusian clothing market, all the while bypassing the law. They accused them of smuggling their products illegally into Belarus and evading taxes.

Photo: sb.by

Their prices are 2 to 3 times lower than the Belarusian average. Local entrepreneurs complain that these new competitors have taken advantage of loopholes in Belarusian legislation, because according to the recent liberalisation of trade measures, controlling agencies cannot officially check the newly created business entities for two years from the date of registration, and only have the right to monitor and offer recommendations.

Belarus has to significantly raise fuel prices because of Russian oil policies. Belnaftachim, a state petrochemicals firm, spoke to newspaper Respublika about why it has been forced to raise fuel prices. The domestic market has always been unprofitable for oil processors. Indeed, the state fixes prices as a part of its social policy. Previously, Belnaftachim was able to compensate the difference with highly profitable exports. Russian tax manoeuvres in oil industry has brought the cost of the oil it sends to Belarus to world market prices. The price of gasoline and diesel has increased accordingly. Exports, while still profitable, can no longer close the gap in the sales on the domestic market. Therefore, it is necessary to raise fuel prices.

Moreover, the firm needs to invest about $1.3bn into modernisation. Otherwise, by 2020, when Russia plans to equalise oil prices, Belarusian plants will lose their competitiveness. According to Andrej Rybakoŭ, Deputy Chairman of Belnaftachim, in order to compensate for the increase in the cost of oil, fuel prices have to increase by 23 per cent. Belnaftachim considers it necessary to bring Belarusian domestic fuel prices to the level of the Russian market at the very least, which are currently 7–11 per cent higher than Belarus’s. The firm has already undertaken all possible internal measures to reduce costs.

Inhabitants of radiation contaminated zones ignore security rules. Respublica has produced a report on the problems in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Belarus’s Homiel region. The main problem concerns the misuse of funds. Last year, for example, over $133m was allocated towards the state’s elimination of Chernobyl consequences programme. As it turned out, the state organisations and businesses involved with the programme were cutting corners, evading taxes and marking down unjustified expenses. The report put the blame to poor management and negligence. Many of the programmes projects failed to be implemented at all.

The Respublica drew particular attention to six districts in the Homiel region. State farms were growing agricultural products without any control for radiation. In eight farms, inspections revealed cases of excess amounts of the radioactive chemical strontium-90 in grain, which was being supplied for food consumption purposes. The local dwellers often ignore security rules and go mushroom or berry picking in contaminated zones, such as the Paliessie radiation ecological reserve. Few of them care to safety-check their bounties in radiological laboratories.

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.




NATO praises Minsk, the KGB’s 100th Birthday, ‘Belarusian Certificates’ – Belarus state press digest

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka shows his support for Russian foreign policy at CIS members meeting. NATO praises Belarus’s unprecedented transparency provided during the Zapad-2017 army exercises. Belarus marks the 100th anniversary of the KGB, with the agency’s current head, Valier Vakulčyk, revealing a number of interesting facts about its recent operations.

Belarus’s visa-free territory has grown even larger as of 1 January 2018. Belarusian lawmakers consider issuing a ‘Belarusian Certificate’ for foreign compatriots. From 2018 on, Belarus is pulling the plug on electricity imports from Russia.

All this in the latest Belarus state press digest.

Foreign policy and security

President Lukashenka showed his support for Russian foreign policy at a meeting of CIS member countries. According to the newspaper Belarus Segodnia, an informal meeting of CIS heads of state took place in Moscow on 26 December, where Alexander Lukashenka shared his position on some fundamental issues. CIS member countries include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. He expressed solidarity with Russia’s position on Syria; if not for Russia’s intervention, Syria would cease to exist at all.

As for the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Lukashenka called it ‘a bit strange.’ He said America should not destroy peace, which was established through so many hardships, and must adhere to the decisions of the UN. The President of Belarus also expressed concern that terrorists displaced from the Middle East would move to Afghanistan, where combatting them will become more difficult than in Syria.

Assessing the economic results for the year among CIS countries, Lukashenka said they were positive. However, Belarus will keep on advocating the timely creation of common markets for electricity, gas, oil and oil products, reports Belarus Segodnia.

NATO praised Belarus’s unprecedented transparency provided during Zapad-2017 army exercises. At a briefing for Belarusian journalists and experts at NATO headquarters, the organisation’s representatives said, “NATO praises Belarus’s unprecedented transparency provided during Zapad-2017 army exercises,” reports newspaper The Minsk Times. Belarus issued the necessary notifications about the forthcoming exercise and the number of its participants in advance and did not misinform anyone. Indeed, authorities listed that 13,000 participants would take part when, in fact, the actual number was even smaller.

Belarus was not obliged to invite international observers, but it did so voluntarily. Moreover, the authorities arranged a five-day tour for the foreign observers, including a flight over the exercise area. “We see that the country is interested in expanding cooperation with the European Union and NATO in security matters. In our opinion, there are no serious hindrances to it,” the NATO officer said.

Domestic politics and economy

Belarus marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the KGB. On 20 December, the Belarusian state celebrated the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the various incarnations of its security bodies. The present head of the KGB, Valier Vakulčyk, in an interview to Belarus Segodnya, among other things, revealed a few interesting facts about the agency’s recent activities. From 2014–2017, Belarusian security services identified 59 foreign terrorist fighters on Belarusian territory, 23 of whom were on the international wanted list.

Head of the KGB Valier Vakulčyk. Photo: sb.by

The agency head said the KGB did not consider the neighbouring Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine as a ‘threat.’ Indeed, he said the concept of ‘enemy’ has completely disappeared from everyday KGB vocabulary. However, he also defined “the aggressive methods of the Lithuanian special services, which include targeted provocations,” as “uncivilised.” For the last five years, the KGB detected and disrupted the intelligence activities of 36 officers and agents of special services from foreign states. 13 of these officers and agents faced criminal charges.

Vakulčyk also praised the national security training academy, which prepares specialists on behalf of many foreign countries and has developed its own communication systems and equipment for the Belarusian government.

Belarus’s visa-free territory has grown again. Since 1 January 2018, foreigners have been able to stay visa-free in six districts located in Belrus’s Hrodna and Brest regions for up to 10 days, reports Belarus Segodnia. Earlier, the visa-free regime only applied to the Hrodna region and only for 5 days. The new visa-free zone in Brest includes Brest City as well as the Žabinka, Kamianiec, Pružany and Svislač districts.

Картинки по запросу брест безвизовая зона

The expanded visa-free zone in Hrodna and Brest regions. Picture: tut.by

Another pleasant change relates to vehicles permitted for travel. While earlier tourists could only come by car or bus, now they will also be able to take trains and planes. However, to use the visa-free opportunity, one will need to buy a tour package for a group or individual. The changes apply to citizens of 77 countries around the world. The tourist companies in Minsk are awaiting the same rules to spread to their territory soon. At present, tourists can come to Minsk without a visa by plane only and for just 5 days.

Belarus is thinking about issuing a ‘Belarusian Certificate’ for foreign compatriots. Belarusian MPs have proposed the creation of a ‘Belarusian Certificate,’ which will be issued to ethnic Belarusians living abroad, as well as to their descendants, writes newspaper Respublika. The document aims to ‘strengthen the spiritual connection of Belarusian diaspora with their historical homeland.’ They will be more likely to come to Belarus and thus will improve its economy and image, said Foreign Affairs Standing Committee Chairman Valiery Varaniecki. For others, the certificates would remain merely a symbolic, spiritual tie.

Aliaksandr Chuk, the head of Heritage, a Belarusian cultural foundation based in Kazakhstan, calls the initiative very necessary, but notes it should not be seen as an ordinary piece of paper. The document should provide real privileges, for example an opportunity to study or work in Belarus. Today, some 3.5 million Belarusians are living abroad.

2018 is the year Belarus stops electricity imports from Russia. Belarus’s Energy Minister, Uladzimir Patupčyk, assures there is no political background to the decision. Belarus has been long preparing for it. Operators have been gradually reducing supplies from abroad and working modernising Belarus’s energy system.

Almost every year, the country introduces new energy capacities, modernises existing power plants, and encourages the consumption of local fuels—which includes the use of renewable energy. For example, the two largest hydropower stations in the country, Polack (21,7 MW) and Viciebsk (40 MW), were launched in 2017. In addition, Belarus finished full-scale reconstruction of one of the oldest power plants in Homiel. In 2019, the country plans to launch the first bloc of its nuclear power plant, writes newspaper Soyuznoe Veche.

The state press digest is based on a 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.




10 most-read stories on Belarus Digest published in 2017

In 2017 Belarus Digest readers particularly interested in our articles on Belarus visa issues, security as well as the relations of Belarus and Russia.

Belarus Digest team wishes its readers a healthy, productive and happy new year!

Here we compiled our top 10 most read stories published in 2017.

1. Visa-free travel and registration in Belarus: not so simple by Yarik Kryvoi.

Starting 12 February, citizens of 80 states, including 39 European countries, will be able to enter Belarus visa-free through the Minsk National Airport. But unlike Kazakhstan, which allows foreigners to stay in the country for up to 30 days, Belarus introduced a much more tricky visa-free regime.

Foreign travellers should be prepared for strict penalties should they fail to understand or abide by the rules. The current practice of registering people with Belarusian visas staying for longer than five days sometimes creates an impression that Belarusian migration authorities view tourists as cash cows.

2. The Belarus-Russia conflict through the lens of the Gerasimov Doctrine by Arseni Sivitski.

The recent visit of Alexander Lukashenka to Sochi on 15 – 26 February 2017, which did not include an audience with Vladimir Putin, casts the relationship between Minsk and the Kremlin in an ever more ambiguous light.

Tensions between Belarus and Russia have been mounting over the past months, as the Kremlin puts more and more pressure on Minsk. The nature of this pressure is perfectly encapsulated by the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine of hybrid warfare. According to the doctrine, Belarus and Russia have entered the ‘pre-crisis’ stage of the conflict.

3. Belarus at the centre of Russia-NATO wargame simulation by Arseni Sivitski.

On 23 – 26 January 2017 a Baltic security wargaming simulation took place in Warsaw. Two defence and security think tanks, the Potomac Foundation and the Casimir Pulaski Foundation, hosted the event.

The wargaming initiative focused on the scenario of a Russia-NATO conflict and analysed the nature of the Russian military threat to the Baltic States and Poland. As a result, Belarus was found to be a key contributor to regional security and stability by containing Russia’s aggressive strategy. The author of this piece also took part in the simulation.

4. Putin expects Belarus to boycott ports of the Baltic States by Siarhei Bohdan.

On 16 August, at a conference on transportation in Northwest Russia, Russian president Vladimir Putin demanded that Belarus stop exporting its oil products through Latvian and Lithuanian ports. Instead, Moscow wants Belarus to reroute through Russia’s Baltic ports. This way, Putin intends to put even more pressure on the Baltic states.

The next day, the Belarusian state-affiliated news agency BelTA published an interview with the acting director general of Belarusian Oil Company, Siarhei Hryb. The article made clear that Minsk wishes to continue its cooperation with the Baltic states.

It seems that Russia and Belarus are heading towards another oil dispute just months after ending the previous one. Minsk refuses to blindly follow the Kremlin’s policy of strangling the Baltic states, if only for pragmatic reasons. To survive as a sovereign state, Belarus needs good relations with all its neighbours, not just Russia.

5. Will the Kremlin topple Lukashenka? by Ryhor Astapenia.

On 20 January, Alexander Lukashenka described the reactions of Russian officials to the introduction of the new five-day visa-free regime in Belarus as ‘groans and wails.’

Recently, the rhetoric surrounding Russian-Belarusian relations has become so sharp that some journalists and analysts believe the Kremlin plans to overthrow Aliaksandr Lukashenka or occupy Belarus.

However, off and on conflict remains a fixture of Belarusian-Russian relations. Despite the belligerent grumbling, Lukashenka mostly upholds the Kremlin’s interests, promoting cooperation between the two countries.

6. The West-2017 Belarus-Russian military exercise: smaller than anticipated by Siarhei Bohdan.

During a meeting with defence minister Andrei Raukou on 20 March, president Alexander Lukashenka demanded ‘absolute transparency’ at the forthcoming West-2017 Belarusian-Russian military exercise. The Belarusian government is working to counter the negative repercussions of such a massive show of military force in the region.

These repercussions have certainly been felt. On 9 February, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė stated that during the West-2017 exercises ‘aggressive forces are concentrating in very large numbers, this is a demonstrative preparation for a war with the West.’

Moscow would apparently like to increase the fog of uncertainty surrounding its military moves. The Russian military previously published the numbers of railway wagons needed for troop movement. In the absence of proper explanations, this created a threatening impression. Yet it is now clear that the exercises on Belarusian territory will be smaller than in 2009.

7. Moscow erects border with Belarus, undermines its links with Ukraine and the Baltics by  Siarhei Bohdan.

On 16 February, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, announced that the Kremlin does not plan to introduce a visa regime with Belarus. His statement comes in a context of increasingly harsh measures on behalf of Moscow towards Belarus over the past half year, beginning when Russia decided to partially reinstate its border with Belarus, which had been abolished in 1995.

The Kremlin is also working to undermine economic ties between Belarus and its other neighbours, paying special attention to the energy and transportation sectors. Results have been tangible: Belarus has already decided to stop importing Ukrainian electricity. Moscow is also doing whatever it can to convince Minsk to use Russian ports rather than ones in the Baltic countries.

Russia accuses the West and its allies in the region of undermining links between Eastern European countries. However, its own policies pursue exactly the same aim. Minsk must fight hard to resist these efforts by the Kremlin.

8. Belarus prepares to expand its visa-free zone by Alesia Rudnik.

In October-December 2016, almost 2,000 tourists took advantage of new visa-free regulations to visit Hrodna Region. In response to the increasing amount of foreign tourists, Hrodna Region has started working on two important initiatives: visa-free railway voyages and launching low-cost flights to Hrodna airport.

However, making railway services and the Hrodna airport accessible visa-free will not attract many more tourists if more tourist services are not first developed. Extension of the visa-free territory to the whole of Belarus and investment in the development of services would significantly improve the popularity of Belarus for tourists.

9. Anarchists, the avantgarde of social protests in Belarus by Alesia Rudnik.

On 15 March, Belarusian authorities detained dozens of citizens protesting against the social parasite decree. Anarchists were one of the most noticeable movements at the protests in Brest and Minsk, causing an immediate reaction from the police.

Anarchists in Belarus, who have a long history, tend to participate only in particular political events. Their creativity and integration distinguished them from other groups during the last two weeks of protests.

The regime has put considerable effort into diminishing the influence of any uncontrollable and integrated group of dissidents, including anarchists. Independence Day on 25 March will show whether the anarchist movement in Belarus is ready for social and political protest or whether it will continue to operate mostly underground.

10. Belarus’s new Russian arms: what Minsk has given in exchange by Siarhei Bohdan.

In an interview published on 23 February, Belarusian defence minister Andrei Raukou announced the forthcoming purchases of state-of-the-art Russian weaponry.

He specifically mentioned the Su-30SM fighter aircraft and 120mm Nona-M1 heavy mortars. Earlier, on 4 February, armament director of the Belarusian armed forces Major General Ihar Latsyankou said that Minsk would purchase these systems this year.

In other words, despite its dependence on Moscow, Minsk has prevailed in its dispute with the Kremlin over defence issues. Moscow initially did not wish to provide Minsk with weapons, intending instead to replace Belarusian with Russian troops. However, it has conceded one position after another. Minsk has thus emerged victorious in this spat.




Top 10 of Belarus civil society in 2017 according to Pact

Traditionally Pact highlights some of the most prominent developments in and affecting Belarus civil society.

Issue of the Year: “Social Parasite” Tax

In 2015, Lukashenko signed a decree imposing a “social parasite tax” on Belarusians without legitimate employment. The entrance of the decree into force resulted in the mass civic reaction in the form of peaceful public protest in February-March 2017. Thousands of people protested the new law, which resulted in mass detentions (described below) but also in the suspension of the decree until 2019.

Campaign of the Year: BY_Help

Having started in March 2017, the BY_help campaign (Yulia Darashkevich, Lyaksei Lyavonchyk and Andrey Stryzhak) raised $55,000 from private and corporate sources inside and outside of Belarus to financially help Belarusians and their families who suffered as a result of the March public protests, the White Legion case and other.

Trend of the Year: Spirit of a Dialogue

Top government officials are becoming ordinary participants at civil society events few examples of which are Minsk Dialogue conferences, Kastrycnicki Economic Forum, Global Entrepreneurship Week. Discussion of Belarus’ Universal Periodic Review to the UN Human Rights Committee, Civil Society Parallel Forum on the foot of the 26 annual sessions of the OSCE PA in Minsk, and expert consultations on the national human rights plan are indicative of the dialogue spirit. Wishful thinking or reality?

Localization of the Year: Congress of Belarusian Studies

Having convened in Kaunas and Warsaw for the last seven years, the organizers of the International Congress of Belarusian Studies – Political Sphere – announce (tentatively) that the 8th congregation will take place in Minsk, Belarus. Preliminary dates are September 27-29, 2018. Main academic partner of the Congress is the National Academy of Science of Belarus. Pack your bags for Minsk!

Save of the Year: Kurapaty – Kotovka – Osmolovka

2017 was marked by a number of victories by civic activists to protect landmark site in Minsk. Two-week defence of Kurapaty mass executions site has led to investor’s abandonment of construction works. A public park in the Kotovka district of Minsk was saved by local community activists Tiananmane square’s Tank Man-style. Local residents of Osmolovka historical area of Minsk succeeded in the freezing of city’s demolition plans for the area.

Consistency of the Year: Social Weekend

Social Weekend celebrated its 10th consecutive open national competition for social projects to get local funding from both individual philanthropists and corporations. The competition is held consistently since 2013, since which time Social Weekend raised over $150,000 to support over 150 projects from among more than 1,400 applicants.

Media Lifeline to Civil Society of the Year: 34Mag

34mag.net youth online magazine lead public communication to aid grassroots activism in 2017: simple-language articles helped local leaders break down public communication, guided them through how to organize a public event or an educational intervention, and showcased successful student initiatives in Belarus. Read up!

Civic Transport of the Year: Bicycle for Everyone!

Cycling activists were among most organized and visible civic actors in 2017, while the number of bicycles in Minsk is approaching the number of cars. Viva Rovar! Carnival gathered together over 15,000 bicycle enthusiasts, while the II International Cycling Festival and PraRovar Forum raised the cycling agenda to the public spotlight further. Belarusian regions were also active: more than 700 cyclists joined the Susedzi 2017 bike marathon in Grodno and Brest held its Vezdevelom international bike festival. Get on a bike when in Belarus, even if it is made of wood!

Scare of the Year: Zapad-2017

Circumstances and media brought anxiety to Belarus ahead of the joint Russian-Belarus military exercise called Zapad-2017. Civil society played an important role in providing civic monitoring, alternative view points and analysis of possible scenarios. Despite the scare, Belarus wasn’t occupied.

And Now for Something Completely Different of the Year

The government of Belarus was the main – yet controversial – newsmaker of the year. Having opened up its borders and having cancelled visas for nationals of over 80 countries, GoB used force to disperse mass peaceful protests in the country detaining over 900 people. Authorities eventually closed the notorious White Legion case, although the trial of three Regnum authors continues. Minsk hosted the 26th session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly while suspending reforms-related talks with the IMF. Lukashenko legalized cryptocurrencies and approved a decree to arguably further ease doing business in Belarus, while the social parasite tax legislation is still on the table.

Pact Belarus Team




Anti-Belarusian propaganda, silent reforms, women’s entrepreneurship – digest of Belarusian analytics

Artiom Shraibman discusses what is wrong with the reaction of Minsk to the anti-Belarusian propaganda. KAS releases a brochure to discuss how civil society can promote transformation in Eastern Europe. A new report of the Centre for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies calls the changes in Belarus’ economic policy as ‘silent reforms’.

Belarus in Focus: civic initiatives successfully negotiate local agenda with the authorities. BEROC fresh study: absolute poverty in Belarus has doubled and reached 29% of the population. Forecast-2018: natural acceleration of the Belarusian economy in 2018 will not happen.

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

Domestic politics

Off Target. What is Wrong With the Reaction of Minsk To the Anti-Belarusian Propaganda – Artiom ShraibmanTUT.BY, analyses the reaction of the state Belarusian media to the Russian NTV channel programme that discussed the desire of Belarus to improve relations with the EU. The journalist notes that the inability to behave adequately in the world of modern information wars is the main flaw of the Belarusian ideological apparatus.

Officials Pretend to Be Civic Activists to Pump Money From the West (video) – Belsat TV program raises the issue that the Belarusian state creates governmental NGOs in order to receive European grants. The program highlights a number of cases when citizens themselves solve serious issues, although officials should do this.

Counterbalancing the State: How Can Civil Society Promote Transformation? – The articles in the brochure are based on the contributions from civil society experts during the closing event of a large-scale EU-funded project in support of civil society in Eastern Europe implemented by KAS. In Belarus section, it is noted that given the difficult economic situation and increasing tensions in relations with Russia, Belarus’ rapprochement towards the EU provides a small window of opportunity for CS activity.

Economy

Belarusian Economy: Achievements and Limits Of ‘Silent Reforms’ 2015-2017 – A new report of the Centre for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies summarises the changes that have occurred in the economic policy of Belarus since 2014. The authors believe that while the authorities preserved the conservative-populist rhetoric, the period was marked by many important transformations in the Belarusian economy, which can be called ‘silent reforms’.

Barriers and Drivers of Women's Entrepreneurship in Belarus During the interviews, the authors identified four groups of factors that prevent women from starting up or developing their businesses.

Determinants of Poverty in the Period of Economic Growth and Its Absence. Assessment Of Dynamics of Poverty in Belarus in 2009-2016 – In its recent study, the BEROC Research Centre estimates the level of poverty based on consumer spending. The key conclusion is that over the past two years, absolute poverty in Belarus has doubled and reached 29% of the population.

Forecast-2018: Stagnation, Devaluation Or a Bright Future – Naviny.by sums up the economic results of the year, conclude that the natural acceleration of the Belarusian economy in 2018 will not happen. This is possible using an artificial way. However, the Belarusian authorities have very limited opportunities to use the administrative resource for this.

How to reform the Belarusian regions. The Ideaby team presents a landing page dedicated to the critical situation in the Belarusians regions and discussion of the ways of their recovery through conducting comprehensive reforms.

Belarus Policy

Barriers and Drivers of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Belarus. The study is based on the number of interviews with female entrepreneurs and top managers of Belarusian companies. During the interviews, the authors identified four groups of factors that prevent women from starting up or developing their businesses. These barriers include the social pressure and family responsibilities; gaps in education; lack of managerial experience and strategic orientation; general challenges of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and macroeconomic instability.

Influence of the Legal and Judicial System on Doing Business in Belarus.  The analysis is based on the data from the survey of small and medium business and a series of interviews with experts in the legal sphere.

The authors propose recommendations to stimulate female participation in business, which include: the introduction of new role models; development of the infrastructure for women’s work-family balance; promotion of academic and business education which takes into account gender-specific needs; financial and information support as well as initiatives to develop social capital.

Influence of the Legal and Judicial System on Doing Business in Belarus. The paper analyses the impact of judicial environment on business development in Belarus. The analysis is based on the data from the survey of small and medium business and a series of interviews with experts in the legal sphere.

In particular, the study focuses on the risks stemming from the legislation and law enforcement practices, which pose a certain threat to businessmen both in the short and long term. Separately, the paper studies the experience of participation of businessmen in court proceedings, their trust in courts and their assessment of the quality of protection by the judiciary, as well as the level of understanding of procedural features.

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.




Human Rights Award 2017, information security, Women and Elections – Belarus civil society digest

Documentary Film Festival on Human Rights Watch Docs goes to Minsk cinemas. Good Neighbor master class tells how to make a playground. MAKEOUT announce a contest for anti-discrimination stickers.  Human rights community delivers its award.

Blakit online project visualises data on public procurement. SYMPA invites to masterclasses on effective local governance by a Polish mayor in Brest and Minsk. Journalistic conference in Minsk: pressure on freelance journalists in Belarus is unprecedented. The first KEF School of Economics is open for students of regional universities.

Onliner and Talaka announce a competition for projects to make life in Belarus better. Teplitsa School of Urban Initiatives opens enrollment for its third season in Mahilioŭ. PraRovar Forum takes place in Minsk to discuss cycling development in Belarus.

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

Human rights

Documentary Film Festival on Human Rights Watch Docs Belarus will be held in Minsk, on 14-17 December. The festival is held in Belarus for the third time, and for the first time, it comes to one of the Minsk central cinemas. The festival is initiated by Zviano CSO and gathers support via crowdfunding. The festival aims to draw attention to the most actual events and create a space for discussion. Admission is free.

National Human Rights Award 2017. On 8 December, in Minsk, the 9th National Award of the Belarusian human rights defenders was delivered in three nominations. Human rights defender of the year became the head of the Belarusian Documentation Centre Raisa Michajloŭskaja, Journalist of the year – journalist Radio Liberty Halina Abakunčyk, and Campaign of the year – campaign to assist to repressed By_Help.

Contest of anti-discrimination stickers is announced by MAKEOUT project. The contest raises the topic of gender-neutral toilets and experience of gender-non-binary and transgender people. The best stickers will be printed and available to stick in the cultural spaces of cities, like toilet doors with traditional “Male” and “Female” to make visible Other experience.

Media

Presentation of the report on information security of Belarus. On 14 December, in Press Club, Research Centre EAST will present the results of the study Information Security in Belarus: How Serious the Issue And What To Do? The researchers analysed the Belarusian media landscape to assess the availability of disinformation sources, calculated vulnerability and resistance indices related to foreign information attacks, and prepared recommendations.

Conference “Prospects and Challenges for Freelance Journalism in Europe. A special focus on Belarus” in Minsk. Photo: baj.by

Prospects and Challenges for Freelance Journalism in Europe Conference took place in Minsk. The conference organised by Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) highlighted that the pressure on freelance journalists in Belarus is unprecedented. Thus, in 2017, freelance journalists in Belarus suffered interference from the authorities over 180 times. The conference adopted a Resolution.

Governance

Blakit visualises data on public procurement. The new online platform will allow journalists and stakeholders to analyse what state companies are buying and to inform representatives of civil society about suspicious transactions. Thus, the project will help accelerate the reform of public procurement in Belarus. The Blakit project team plans to release the project by the end of 2017.

Women and Elections gender conference was held in Minsk. The event presented a study on the participation of women in democratic politics in Belarus. The 12 parties and political organisations participated in the poll and noted that the activity of Belarusian women increased in three circumstances: due to the economic crisis, the shock after the events of 2010 and the spring protests of 2017.

How to make an effective local government. On 2 and 3 December, the SYMPA Research Centre for Public Management and Budźma! campaign invite to master classes on effective local self-government with Krzysztof Zacharzewski, a philosopher, civic activist, and the current mayor of Złocieniec town in Poland. The speaker will talk about the citizens’ participation in decision-making processes, tools to improve the transparency of government etc.

Study: Self-regulation of Business in Belarus. On 29 November, the Liberal Club invites to the presentation of its fresh study on the prospects of business self-regulation on the example of advertising activities. The presentation and the subsequent discussion will raise a point whether business, the state, and consumers are actually ready for self-regulation.

Local and urban activism

Good Neighbor: how to make a playground and find resources for it. On 18 December, in Minsk, the Office for European Expertise and Communications invites to a master class, where activists will share their experience on establishing playgrounds in their yards, as well as architects and engineers will present new creative ideas.

Teplitsa School of Urban Initiatives invites for the third season. The Teplitsa/Greenhouse School in Mahilioŭ includes a series of meetings and lectures that will help the participants to become more proactive and active in improving life in the city. Based on the results of the training, students develop and implement urban projects. The School is traditionally organised by the Mahilioŭ-based Urban Initiatives Centre.

PraRovar Forum takes place on 24-26 November, in Minsk. PraRovar/ Pro-Bike Forum is dedicated to the development of cycling at the city and national levels and aims to acquaint Belarusian cyclist activists from different cities and synchronise their activities for the development of urban cycling in Belarus. The event is held within the framework of the EU-supported project Urban Cycling in Belarus.

Rating of Belarus’ protest cities for the recent two years is composed by Sxod.by site. Minsk heads the list – in 2016-2017, Belarus observed 124 street protests and 64 of them run in the Belarusian capital. The 2nd place is taken by Baranavičy city, Brest region, with 10 protest actions.

#Paskarenne national interactive competition of projects is launched by Onliner.by together with Talaka.by non-profit platform. #Paskarenne/ #Acceleration competition aims to support any Belarusian projects – from social and urban to entrepreneurial and technological. The prize fund is $2K. The projects’ development will be covered in the format of a reality show. The winner will be announced in February 2018.

Other

School of Economics KEF 2018. The first round of the KEF School of Economics is open for students of regional universities. The School aims to improve the knowledge of students on economics and create regional communities of students interested in economics. The school is organised by the Centre for Economic Research BEROC and the IPM Research Centre. The deadline is 5 January 2018.

Overview of CSOs dealing with children and young people with disabilities is presented in an analytical report of the ENCON project – Enhancing CSOs Contribution to Evidence-Based Policy Making for Vulnerable Groups. The project is implemented by CASE Belarus in concert with the ACT NGO and international partners.

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.




CIS leaders rating, new local politicians, gas price drop, labour migration – Belarus state press digest

Minsk approves the current pragmatic approach of the EU towards the Eastern Partnership. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka is the top rated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leader among Russians. The authorities expect new faces in politics after 2018 local election.

The cost of Russian gas for Belarus will decrease in 2018. Chinese Midea Group is expanding its business in Belarus. Belarusians are increasingly looking for jobs abroad.

This and more in the new Belarus state press digest.

Politics and foreign policy

The EU does not fully understand the ultimate goal of the Eastern Partnership. The EU, exhausted by internal difficulties, cannot bear the burden of geopolitical confrontation with Moscow, argues political scientist Usievalad Šymaŭ in an article published in Respublika, a Minsk based newspaper. Judging by the results of the Eastern Partnership summit, pragmatists in Europe now clearly dominate over hawks. The final declaration of the summit focused exclusively on a positive agenda and tried to bypass all dispute and moments of conflict, especially those related to the war in Ukraine.

This is a good sign for Belarus. It is precisely this format of cooperation that Minsk traditionally advocates, diligently avoiding ideology, which relations with the EU always entail. However, today’s pragmatic EU is a product not so much of goodwill as of internal weakness. European eastern policy may still undergo significant changes, which Belarus should remain prepared for.

Alexander Lukashenka heads the rating of CIS leaders among Russia’s population. The Presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Nursultan Nazarbayev, appeared highest on Russia’s rating of trust in leaders among CIS member states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan). According to the poll conducted by the All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, 62 per cent of Russians trust Aliaksandr Lukashenka, and 56 per cent trust Nursultan Nazarbayev, reports Belarus Segodnia, a daily newspaper.

In addition, Russians recognise Belarus (64 per cent) and Kazakhstan (57 per cent) as their country’s main partners. Appraisals of the protection of Russian-speaking populations have also risen significantly. 66 per cent of Russians think that Russian-speakers enjoy full rights in Belarus (27 per cent in 2010), and 38 per cent thinks so of Kazakhstan (18 per cent in 2013).

Картинки по запросу лидия ермошина

Lidzija Jarmošyna. Photo: tut.by

The authorities expect new faces in politics after the 2018 local elections. Daily Belarusian newspaper Zviazda quoted the chairman of the Belarusian Central Election Commission, Lidzija Jarmošyna, who spoke on 6 December in Viciebsk at a training session for managers and organisers for the upcoming local councils elections.

Commenting on the applications, which are just now being sent in to the Central Election Commission, Lidzija Jarmošyna noted that they mostly concern the nomination of candidates for deputies. The candidates are inquiring about certain regulations, such as the declaration of property, use of election funds, and advertising rules. “All of this suggests that many individual candidates will participate in the election, because those from existing parties already have experience in such matters. We will have unexpected figures and new politicians,” said Jarmošyna.

Economy

The cost of Russian gas for Belarus will decrease in 2018. The price of Russian gas for Belarus in 2018 will drop from $143 to $129 per 1000 cubic metres, and to $127 in 2019. The lower price will make Belarusian enterprises more competitive, writes Belarus Segodnia. According to Energy Ministry estimates, the economic effect of the price reduction will reach $700m. By the end of the year, Belarus and Russia hope to define an approach to the formation of a common gas market in the Eurasian Economic Union by 2025.

The sides still disagree on tariffs for the transportation of gas through member state territory. Today, Russia’s Gazprom has exclusive rights to supply gas to Belarus. However, after the creation of the common gas market, the consumers will be able to purchase it from various producers in Russia and Kazakhstan through the stock exchange or by signing long-term contracts.

Chinese Midea Group is expanding its business in Belarus. On 27 November President Lukashenka hosted Fang Hongbo, the Chairman of the Board and President of Midea Group. The corporation is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of household appliances in China and the world with about 130,000 employees. The Belarusian leader said, “[Chinese businessmen] will not only always find the understanding of our leadership, but also all kinds of support.”

Midea Group came to Belarus a decade ago. It began production of microwave ovens and water heaters jointly with Horizont Holding, a Belarusian conglomerate. Fang Hongbo expressed his satisfaction with the results Midea Group’s partnership in Belarus over the period. He also spoke about the intention to use Belarus as a starting site for expansion to CIS markets. Midea Group plans to develop its existing production and to introduce new items, including refrigerators and washing machines.

More Belarusians are looking for jobs abroad. According to the Head of the Presidential Administration Natallia Kačanava, 97,600 Belarusians are currently working abroad, reports Narodnaja Hazieta, a Belarusian politics and society newspaper. Meanwhile, the Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Migration published a report, which claims 346,000 Belarusians registered as migrants in Russia just in the past year. Moreover, some Belarusian migrants work in Russia illegally without registering.

However, because of Russia’s recession, more and more Belarusian labour migrants choose to work in Poland. In 2015, Polish employers registered some 5,500 work invitations for Belarusians under Poland’s simplified employment scheme. In 2016, this figure rose to about 25,000, and then went even higher in the first half of 2017. A study carried out by the the Institute of Sociology at the National Academy of Sciences shows that at present more than 8–10 per cent of Belarusian citizens are looking for work abroad.

Geely cars produced in Belarus. Photo: sb.by

The government has formulated preferential conditions for Geely car sales. The President has told administrators to increase the warranty period of the Belarusian-Chinese Geely car from 4 to 5 years and offer preferential conditions to buyers, writes Respublica. Belarusians will have the opportunity to make the first payment at 10 per cent a vehicle’s total cost, and then to either lease or finance it over 7 years. The sale of Geely vehicles under these new conditions begin this December.

The cost of Geely’s three new car models vary in the range of $17,000–$25,000. The government expects to sell at least 25,000 cars in the coming year, increasing this number by 10,000 annually. However, in the market for crossover vehicles—where Belarusian Geelys are located—competition remains very high. The entire domestic crossover market does not exceed 6,000 cars a year.

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.




Belarus at EaP summit 2017, peacekeepers in Ukraine, London conference, legal education – Ostrogorski Centre digest

In November, analysts from the Ostrogorski Centre gave reasons for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka not attending the Eastern Partnership summit, assessed growing international support for Belarusian peacekeepers in Ukraine, and outlined how geopolitics increase the heft of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus.

The Ostrogorski Centre and the Faculty of Law of the Belarusian State University with the support of the British Embassy will hold a conference on the reform of legal education on 28 December 2017 in Minsk.

The Ostrogorski Centre has also continued to update the Belarus Policy database of research papers in the areas of economy, governance, and politics.

Analytics

Igar Gubarevich tries to answer the questions why the time was not ripe for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka to visit the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit, where EU leaders met with six Eastern neighbouring nations—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine—to discuss how to achieve stronger cooperation in economy, governance, connectivity and society. After a lengthy pause, Lukashenka declined the European Union’s invitation to lead his country’s delegation at the EaP summit in Brussels.

Why did the Belarusian leader deliberately miss the long-awaited opportunity to rub shoulders with Europe’s most powerful men and women? Few politicians and experts expected such a decision. Speculations abounded about Lukashenka’s motives, including the lack of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refusal to meet the Belarusian peacemaker, and a wish to avoid the possibility of protesters in Brussels.

Siarhei Bohdan discusses how Minsk is working to secure the support of key international players for an active role in defusing the Ukrainian crisis. Minsk wishes to find a new, international niche for itself through engaging in conflict resolutions. A central goal is to cast off the tired “last European dictatorship” epithet. At the same time, the volatility of the region has pushed Belarus along this course of action. Russian support is uncertain and increasingly limited. Thus, the Belarusian government has tried both to defuse at least some tensions around Ukraine and to gain more international respect.

Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei and Frederica Mogherini at a signing ceremony. Photo: mfa.gov.by

Until now, Minsk’s efforts to become more neutral have appeared problematic. Moscow, in general, has never appreciated these attempts. The West has been unsure of Belarusian claims of neutrality. However, if Belarus does deploy peacekeepers in the Donbas Region, then arguably Russia, the West and other neighbouring states would, in effect, be validating Belarus’s right not to choose sides.

Vadzim Smok analyses how geopolitics increase the heft of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus. This year, the Catholic Church strengthened its criticism of unjust state policies against it when compared with the dominant Russian Orthodox Church. Against a backdrop of warming Belarus-West relations, the Catholic Church seems to feel more confident and, therefore, more able to publicly voice its problems with the authorities. Meanwhile, Minsk realises the importance of the Church for reaching its strategic goals and understands it will have to listen to Belarusian Catholics more carefully.

Call for Papers: The Third Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies

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.

All 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 at http://tinyurl.com/belauk2018 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 to cover related expenses. You may pay the fee at the door or pay online (see the registration form for details). If you are unable to pay the registration fee, the organisers can 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

Please use this hastag #belstudies

Conference: Legal education reform in Belarus and the United Kingdom: sharing experience and looking to the future

On 28 December 2017 in Minsk, the Ostrogorski Centre and the Faculty of Law of the Belarusian State University with the support of the British Embassy will hold a conference on the reform of legal education. The Conference will be held at the Faculty of Law of the BSU (8 Leninhradskaja Street).

Rule of law is an indispensable foundation for a market economy, which provides an essential environment for the creation and preservation of wealth, economic security, well-being, and for improving the quality of life. Establishing the rule of law has been a challenge for all post-Soviet states in their transitions to a market economy and economic growth. Meanwhile, in Belarus, where the role of the state in the economy remains strong, further development of the legal system and training specialists in law should be a priority.

This conference will focus on legal education and its potential role in the reform process in Belarus. It will enable the British and Belarusian academics, businessmen and officials to discuss best practices and trends in legal education. In particular, the panels will discuss the organisation of the educational process, the development of professional skills for students and specialists, as well as opportunities for international cooperation in the field of legal education.

More information about the conference is available here.

Comments in the media

Impressed by the US electric car Tesla, President Lukashenka ordered Belarusian manufacturers to produce a domestic analogue. Neighbouring Moscow and Warsaw also have plans for a transition to electric vehicle manufacturing. The Russian government is working on a comprehensive program of support for the development of its electric car industry, while Polish leaders expect to produce one million electric vehicles within 5 years. Ostrogorski Centre analyst Vadzim Smok discussed on Radio Poland whether Belarus will succeed in becoming a pioneer in the production of electric vehicles in the region.

The UAE is a kind of hub for the Arab region, through which Belarus can access a number of rich countries that have ties with the West. In addition, sheikhs from the UAE are investing considerable funds in various projects in “third countries,” a term for countries outside the EU. Due to its friendship with the UAE, Belarus could also participate in these investment projects. Indeed, Emirate investments could also go directly to Belarus, which is already happening. Naviny.by, a web-based news portal, quotes Ostrogorski Centre associate analyst Siarhei Bohdan in фт article about the recent visit of Alexander Lukashenka to the UAE.

Картинки по запросу лукашенко в ОАЭ

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka and his youngest son, Kolya, visiting the UAE. Photo: kp.by

Over the last few months, Alexander Lukashenka appointed a number of new military chiefs who have never studied at Russian military schools. This is in contrast to the majority of the new appointees’ peers. In addition, certain candidates for official positions known to speak Belarusian on a daily basis also received high posts. Ostrogorski Centre analyst Vadzim Smok on Radio Poland discussed whether this indicates ‘Belarusianisation’ of the government is intended to strengthen the country’s independence and national identity.

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 in the database by emailing us.

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




Soft Belarusianisation, economic forum, reformists disappointed – digest of Belarusian analytics

Arciom Šrajbman explains why Lukashenka did not attend EaP summit in Brussels. Grigory Ioffe: The regime in Minsk has taken over some of the most important slogans and refrains of the opposition. Joerg Forbrig: I am not an “Architect of Revolutions” in Belarus.

Jaŭhien Prejhierman sees modest progress in US-Belarus relations. Piotr Rudkoŭski: through soft Belarusianisation, the regime is looking for new ways to arrange relationships with its own society and with the West. Belarus in Focus: reformists in the government and the National Bank are somewhat disappointed with the pace and prospects for economic reforms in Belarus.

IPM Research Centre fresh infographics on education: 5,7% Belarusian high school graduates can freely speak a foreign language. CET study: Belarusians’ self-identification “with the Soviet people” remains the same as in the early 2000s.

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

Foreign policy

Nothing to Talk About. Why Lukashenka Did Not Accept the Long-Awaited Invitation to Brussels – Arciom Šrajbman, at Carnegie Moscow Centre, analyses the reasons why Alexander Lukashenka did not accept the invitation to the Eastern Partnership summit – in brief, the EaP was devalued even in the eyes of its participants. This is cold realism, a field for the routine work of professional diplomats, where the leaders do not yet see the point of investing their political capital.

Modest Advances in US-Belarus Relations – Jaŭhien Prejhierman pays attention to some modest progress in US-Belarus relations, which have been in a downgraded state for almost ten years now. However, there is a fundamental problem Belarus has in relations with the US – unlike some other post-Soviet states, the country has no lobby in DC.

Belarus, Russia and the “Ukrainian Scenario” – Grigory Ioffe analyses fresh publications pertaining to the possibility of “the Ukrainian scenario” in Belarus. The author acknowledges that Belarus and Russia have common majority religion and language, and suggests that “Western influence is hardly the root cause of a potentially comparable Belarusian estrangement from Russia”. A functioning state is the main difference that Europe sees in Belarus compared to Ukraine.

Domestic politics

Belarus: Generational Change and Nation-Building – Grigory Ioffe notices that the “regime” in Minsk has taken over some of the most important slogans and refrains of the opposition. And today, Belarusian language is no longer a clear marker of patriotism and identity. Such evolving nuances are easy to miss. Nevertheless, they are important to grasp for anyone aspiring to understand modern-day Belarus.

E-participation as an instrument of inclusive public administration The authors of the document discuss the creation of special electronic services in Belarus for public discussion of draft laws as well as an electronic platform that allows citizens to collect signatures for certain legislative initiatives.

Joerg Forbrig: I am Not an “Architect of Revolutions” in Belarus – Joerg Forbrig, The German Marshall Fund, visited Belarus for the first time in the last 7 years and gave an interview to the Reformation Belarusian website. Dr Forbrig shares his understanding of Belarusian civil society and Belarus-EU relations.

Belarus and the 1917 Revolution – Grigory Ioffe notices that Belarus is the only successor state of the Soviet Union where 7 November is still a day off. The simplest interpretation of such continued veneration of Soviet symbols is that the current political regime of Belarus is a direct successor of the Soviet one. However, the expert believes that this is an intricate and complex theme, hardly conducive to the propaganda of any strand whatsoever.

Soft Belarusianisation. The Ideology of Belarus in the Era of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict – Piotr Rudkoŭski notes that over the past three years, the government of Belarus is strengthening national identity, emphasising the divergence of Belarus’s interests from those of Russia. This modification probably means that the regime is looking for new ways to arrange its relationships, both with its own society and with the countries of the West.

Economy

Reforms: The society behind brackets. Yevgeni Moskvich, at Nashe Mnenie, refers to the results of the Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF 2017 and notes that enthusiasm in relation to economic reforms diminished compared to previous years. However, this does not negate the relevance of reforms. “If consensus on this issue is impossible with the authorities, it is logical to find it with the society at least.”

The Belarusian leadership restrains economic reforms. According to Belarus in Focus, reformists in the government and the National Bank are somewhat disappointed with the pace and prospects for economic reforms in Belarus in the coming years. Hence, they are less willing to put pressure on the country’s top leadership and most ambitious of them leave the public sector.

Soft Belarusianisation. The ideology of Belarus in the era of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict To an increasing degree, the state ideology is focusing on strengthening national identity, emphasizing the divergence of Belarus’s interests from those of Russia, and re-examining the historical narration

How Mistrust And Lack of Reforms Ruin Everything – TUT.by portal summarises the results of the Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF 2017. Top-level international and Belarusian participants traditionally attended the Forum. While the first four forums raised the reform as the main issue, this year event shifted to humanitarian issues, raising a number of actual internal items both at the formal panels and backstage discussions.

Why Doesn’t Belarus Move Towards Market Economy? Five Important Thoughts Following the Results Of the Main Economic Forum Of the Year – Nasha Niva journalist formulates five theses according to his conversations with officials and businessmen at the KEF 2017. A shock transition to the market will turn into a disaster even with the absolute political will of Alexander Lukashenka, as soon as the majority of the population will find themselves uncompetitive in the market conditions. However, authorities need to understand that there are reforms that don’t “kill” economic growth, including reforms in education, judicial system, legislative drafting etc.

Society

IPM Research Centre presents infographics on school education. Respondents of 17-21 years old from all types of settlements participated in the survey. Thus, the Russian language tops the rating of school subjects the knowledge of which was useful after school (53,7%); the Belarusian language took the second place (16.1%). Only 1.5% of Belarusian graduates speak several foreign languages.

“New Soviet” Belarusians – Centre for European Transformation, CET publishes the results of a national survey conducted in August 2016. The study shows that the identification “with the Soviet people” remains at the same level as at the early 2000s: a quarter (25,6%) of the Belarusians “often” feels closeness “with the Soviet people”, 18,5% – “sometimes”, and only 22,8% “almost never” feel this closeness.

All possibilities of extensive development exhausted. Zautra.by figures out what prevents Belarus from growing in the Doing Business rating. One of the reasons is connected with the fact that other countries have been more active in reforming their economies.

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.




Week against fascism, RADA Awards, monitoring local elections – Belarus civil society digest

Minsk Dialogue conducts a discussion on the prospects of the Belarusian-German relations after the recent parliamentary elections in Germany. Idea online magazine transforms into the Centre for New Ideas.

Human Constanta launches a week of educational activities addressing fascism and anti-semitism. Press Club Belarus invites to an open meeting with Reformation media project. SYMPA presents local projects that change the society. RADA Awards are accepting nominations for best Belarusian youth initiatives and most prominent activists in 2017.

Human rights activists launch a campaign to monitor local elections. Viasna: over the last two years, 20 students were expelled from Belarusian universities for political reasons. This and more in the new edition of the Belarus civil society digest.

Think tanks and policy discussion

Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF 2017 publishes its materials. The largest economic conference was organised on 2-3 November by independent think tanks for the 5th consecutive year to promote reforms in the country. The video records, presentations, and photos are available.

Germany’s foreign policy under the new coalition. On 22 November, Minsk Dialogue expert initiative and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung invite to a discussion on the prospects of the Belarusian-German relations after the recent parliamentary elections in Germany. The event is planned to gather up to 100 participants.

Idea celebrates its 5th anniversary and transforms into New Ideas Centre. The upgraded organisation will combine the features of a media platform, public forum, think tank, and advocacy group. The team is willing to convince Belarusians why reforms are needed, and what reforms should be.

Non-formal education

Flying University seeks support for four new online courses of the Belarusian intellectuals in a modern format and at a professional level. Since December 2016, Flying University created 9 video courses on actual topics. Now the crowdfunding campaign aims to raise funds for courses on topics Open Data, Play as a cultural phenomenon, Creative Photo, and Practical Politics.

Civic education in Ukraine and Belarus was discussed in Minsk, on 8 November. The event presented an analytical paper with recommendations for non-formal education providers interested in organising Ukrainian-Belarusian projects. The organiser was the Association for Life-Long Education and international partners.

Student Week 2017 was held on 11-19 November. Belarusian youth and student organisations organised a number of activities for youth during the Week dedicated to the International Students’ Day. The programme included a human library, discussions, open lectures, quiz, movie nights, and music concerts. Among the organisers, there were Student Rada, BOSS, and others.

Media Navigator website is launched for coaches, teachers, and media educators. This is a set of exercises to develop media literacy in Eastern Europe. The site has navigation for different age groups, topics, methods and levels of complexity. Experts from 11 countries, including Belarus, implement the project.

Week of educational activities against fascism and antisemitism was held in Belarus on 9-19 November. The organiser was Human Constanta CSO in concert with a number of human rights CSOs. The agenda included the programme of film screenings, human library, WATCH DOCS Belarus, seminars on the concept of deep antifascism, exhibitions, etc.

Local and urban activism

Public Space Day in Minsk. On 26 November, Flying University, Urban Tactics almanack, the Green Belarusian Party, Green Network and Architectural Bureau-35 invite to discuss the social, political and humanitarian dimensions of public spaces. The event will present the practices implemented in Belarus and abroad on working with courtyards and pedestrian zones.

Local projects that can change society were presented by the School of Young Managers in Public Administration (SYMPA) within the Weeks of Sustainable Development. During the year, SYMPA supported six community projects aimed at creating new forms of interaction at a local level, including an assistance centre for children with disabilities in Turaŭ, work with residents of Frunzenski district in Minsk, etc.

Participants of the Biz4all-1 social entrepreneurship training programme. Photo: odb-office.eu

Biz4all-2 social entrepreneurship training programme invites to participation. The free course will be held in Minsk for the second time. The BIZ4all-2 is practical-oriented; therefore participants will create viable products, conduct crowdfunding campaigns and do many home tasks. The organiser is ODB Brussels in partnership with foreign partners. The program shares the success stories of the first Biz4all participants.

Human rights

Human rights activists launch a campaign of monitoring local elections, following the official announcement of local elections set for 18 February 2018. Despite the campaign’s proposals, numerous recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR, as well as the work of an interdepartmental group created by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to improve the electoral process, no changes have been introduced to the electoral law.

Human rights and human rights activity in public opinion of Belarusians sociological survey. The study was commissioned by Freedom House and conducted by Satio in 2016. In particular, almost two thirds (62.3%) of Belarusians did not receive any information about the activities of human rights organisations; 26.6% heard something about their activities; 14.5% are aware of the activities of human rights organisations.

Four reporters of Belsat TV channel put on trial together. All of them were sentenced to fines for a total amount of 1,500 euro on 30 October. Thus, freelance journalists have been fined 50 times for their work without accreditation since the year start.

For two years Belarusian universities expelled 20 students for political reasons. According to the Belarusian student organisations, experts in the field of higher education and human rights activists, after three years Belarus’ accession to the Bologna process, the minimum progress has been achieved – Belarus has fully complied with only two out of 15 points. The least progress is observed in academic freedom area.

Other

Сase-Exchange Weekend Belarusian-German CSO Forum will take place on 9-10 December in Minsk. The forum aims to exchange best practices between representatives of German and Belarusian CSOs in such areas as regional cooperation, non-formal education, human rights, social inclusion, etc. Belarusian organisers are ODB Brussels and Human Constanta.

RADA AWARDS 2017. Belarusian National Youth Council RADA announces the nominations for RADA AWARDS, designed to honour the best Belarusian youth initiatives and activists for 2017. Until 1 December, anyone is welcome to fill in an online form and nominate herself/himself or other initiatives for the award. The festive ceremony will take place on 17 December.

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.




Hazing investigation, local elections 2018, nuclear stress test – Belarus state press digest

Belarusian experts Jaŭhien Prejhierman and Piotr Piatroŭski opine that a pause in Eurasian integration is necessary until the members resolve current controversies. The government announces the date and details of the 2018 local elections.

The Defence Ministry brings changes to the Piečy training centre after an outrageous hazing incident. The first Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant, Astraviec, successfully passes its stress test. Belarus improves its anti-corruption record. Officials and cultural figures discuss policies to raise the status of the Belarusian language.

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

Politics and foreign policy

The experts call for a pause in Eurasian integration. Narodnaja Hazieta, a newspaper, provides the opinions of Belarusian experts Jaŭhien Prejhierman and Piotr Piatroŭski on the state of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). In just a few years, the EEU overcame several development stages that took the EU several decades: a customs union, a single economic space and an economic union. However, the result is that none of these platforms operate properly. Each contains numerous barriers, exceptions and limitations. Member states do not fully implement agreements. Deadlines for eliminating exemptions from the single market are continually postponed, including oil and gas prices, which are particularly sensitive for Belarus.

This simply contradicts the spirit of the alliance and violates the interests of the participating states. Instead of bringing member states together, it increases strategic uncertainty and vulnerability. Therefore, if the countries really want to build a strong mutually beneficial union, there must be a respite from further integration. It is for this reason that Belarus has proposed a moratorium on any new decisions in the EEU until the implementation of previously reached agreements.

Elections to local councils will be held on 18 February 2018. The state plans to allocate about $10.5m for election funding, but Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka has urged the authorities to save rubles anywhere possible, writes Belarus Segodnia, a daily newspaper. The Chairman of the Central Commission for Elections and Republican Referendums, Lidzija Jarmošyna, announced the government has no obligation to invite international observers to elections to local councils.

Nevertheless, the President underlines the special role of observation and offers a possibility for short-term observation to all foreign diplomats accredited in the Republic of Belarus. Organisations that interact with international structures in the field of local self-government are allowed to invite experts and observers from partner organisations, too. Jarmošyna also said that since business plays an essential role in the life of our country, it should be well represented within local councils.

Military

The Defence Ministry has instituted major changes at the Piečy training centre after a brutal hazing incident allegedly led to the death of private Aliaksandr Koržyč. It ordered the replacement of the junior command staff and sent 20 sergeants from the 3rd and 307th schools to other military units.

Uladzimir Makaraŭ, the press secretary for the Defence Ministry’s Ideology Directorate, assured the public that the transfers will not spread hazing practices. Those who carried out and were involved in the hazing activities are already under investigation. After the death of the soldier, the Investigations Committee (equivalent to the FBI in the United States) opened 15 criminal cases against officers stationed at the Piečy training centre.

New (left) vs old (right) uniform. Photo: sb.byThe Belarusian army changes its uniform. The reform aims to make the uniform more lightweight and practical. Many servicemen will be able don new winter garb in a month. The traditional Soviet hat with ear-flaps known to many generations will be dismissed and replaced with a crocheted hat.

The jacket collar will turn from fur to fleece, which is cheaper and several times lighter. The costly black leather belts will be replaced with protective colour textile belts. In total, the new uniform is lighter by a third. Recent research by the Defence Ministry has shown that lighter and higher quality materials make soldiers more capable.

Public policy

The Belarusian Astraviec nuclear power plant (NPP) successfully passed its stress test. The Emergency Ministry’s Nuclear and Radiation Safety Department has published a national report on the results of a series of stress tests for Astraviec plant, reports Zviazda, a state-owned daily newspaper. The tests checked the resistance of the NPP to threatening phenomena that can hypothetically happen in Belarus: strong winds and squalls, tornadoes, large hail stones, dust storms, strong blizzards, ice, fog, drought, as well as combinations of these phenomena.

According to Department Head Volha Luhoŭskaja, the NPP at Astraviec is resistant to emergency situations similar to Fukushima. The NPP, which is constructed to the latest generation Russian ‘3+ design,” fully meets the highest international safety standards. Belarusian specialists have already submitted the report to the European Group for the Supervision of Nuclear Safety and the European Commission for international review.

Belarus improves its anti-corruption record. An interdepartmental conference at the Academy of Public Administration discussed anti-corruption law application and its further improvement in Belarus. Transparency International states that in the corruption perception index, Belarus rose from 107th place to 79th in 2016. A survey of Belarusian economists conducted among small and medium-sized businesses shows that the actual rating of the country is much higher and is at the level of Poland, Lithuania and Slovenia.

The Astraviec nuclear power plant. Photo: sb.by

One newspaper claimed that international experts regard Belarusian anti-corruption legislation as some of the most progressive and effective in the world. Prosecutor General Aliaksandr Kaniuk pointed out that the country is currently implementing policies that minimise corruption: limiting state interference in business, easing firefighting, sanitary, environmental and other requirements, abolishing administrative checks, simplifying procedures for obtaining certificates, approvals, and other permits.

 Can the Belarusian language play a greater role in society? On 11 November, Belarus Segodnia held a roundtable  on the Belarusian language, featuring both pro-governmental figures dealing with the language policy (MP Ihar Marzaliuk, ideologist Vadzim Hihin, Iryna Bulaŭkina from the Ministry of Education) and nationalists from the opposition (artist Mikola Kupava and historian Lieanid Lyč). The participants agreed that the vast majority of Belarusians want to live in an independent country, and no Belarusian nation and statehood is possible without the Belarusian language, history and cultural heritage.

The opposition speakers claimed that the role of the Belarusian language can be improved only through its wider use at the highest levels of education. Officials responded that forced Belarusianisation will lead to its rejection by the citizens, and therefore soft methods should be used in this process.

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.




Between new democratic and old autocratic friends – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest

In October, the European Union formally invited Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka to attend the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on 24 November. However, up until now, Belarus-Europe contacts remain scarce even at the ministerial level. Romania’s Teodor Meleșcanu has been the first EU foreign minister to visit Minsk since mid-July.

In recent weeks, Belarus’s foreign ministry continued to build bridges with Europe, mostly through the mechanisms of joint trade commissions and parliamentary diplomacy. Meanwhile, Alexander Lukashenka reaffirmed the importance of close personal relationships, meeting with his autocratic friends from Venezuela, Uzbekistan and the UAE. However, doubts remain about the ultimate efficiency of his efforts.

An EU foreign minister in Minsk

On 9–10 November, Romania’s foreign minister Teodor Meleșcanu paid an official visit to Belarus. He held talks with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei and met with Prime Minister Andrei Kabiakou. The visit ended a nearly four-month-long hiatus of EU foreign ministers’ trips to Minsk.

The foreign ministers of Belarus and Romania discussed a wide range of bilateral issues and prospects for cooperation between Belarus and the European Union. Both sides agreed that Romania has played an important role in strengthening the upward trend in Belarus–EU relations in recent years.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei greets his Romanian counterpart, Teodor Meleșcanu. Photo: mfa.gov.by

Kabiakou and Meleșcanu talked about possible cooperation in IT, healthcare and agriculture, as well as joint manufacturing of auto components, furniture, clothing, textiles, and building materials in Belarus. The head of the Belarusian government actively “sold” Belarus’s role as a launchpad into the Eurasian Economic Union markets (full members include Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia) to the Romanian diplomat.

Trade turnover between Belarus and Romania fell steadily from 2012 to 2015. The two countries reversed this negative trend last year. In January–August 2017, goods exchanged grew by a respectable 25 per cent with the balance in favour of Belarus.

Teodor Meleșcanu, who is also a Romanian senator, met with the heads of both chambers of the Belarusian parliament, Mikhail Miasnikovich and Uladzimir Andrejchanka. The minister assured them of “[Romania’s] intention to develop relations with Belarusian MPs.” In fact, the two parliaments have already exchanged visits at the working level, once in April 2016 and then again this November.

Ostracism of Belarus’s parliament: A thing of the past

In recent weeks, Romania was not the only European country eager to bond with Belarus’s rubber-stamp parliament. MPs from a few other EU countries readily posed for photos with their Belarusian hand-picked “colleagues.”

In late September, two Belgian MPs, both members of a Flemish nationalist party, visited Minsk as representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an organisation that works to promote democracy and inter-parliamentary dialogue. They had meetings in the Belarusian parliament and at the foreign ministry.

Interestingly, Belarusian government media reported the name of only one visiting MP, Yoleen Van Camp, and never mentioned her companion, Senator Pol Van den Driessche, president of Belgium’s group in the IPU. Perhaps, the silence can be explained by the fact that, in his home country, the senator was a target of numerous accusations of sexual harassment.

On 30–31 September, two Belarusian MPs visited Tallinn at the invitation of the Rijgikogu, the Estonian parliament. There, they met with Een Eesmaa, the vice-speaker of the parliament. Jüri Ratas, Prime-Minister of Estonia, received the delegation and gave them a tour of his official residence.

The Belarusian foreign ministry has been investing a lot of effort in the legitimisation of the Belarusian legislature. On 26 October, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Dapkiunas spoke at a workshop held in the Belarusian parliament, which focused on pressing issues of foreign policy and trade. The heads of parliamentary working groups on cooperation with foreign parliaments were the target audience of this event.

Rich enough to help out an old friend?

President Lukashenka received his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro on 5 October. The Bolivarian leader made a stopover in Minsk en route from Moscow to Ankara, looking for economic and geopolitical support wherever he can get it.

Relations between Belarus and Venezuela reached their peak in the last years of Hugo Chavez’s rule. Exorbitant oil prices ensured the well-being of the Venezuelan economy. Belarus launched several major construction and joint manufacturing projects in Venezuela. In 2010, the Belarusian exports to this country surpassed $300m.

Nicolas Maduro and Alexander Lukashenka plant a tree. Photo: president.gov.by

Bilateral trade has been in free-fall since 2013, plummeting to a rather dismal $2m for 2016. Most joint projects were suspended or shut down. Venezuela owes $113m to a Belarusian construction company. However, for political reasons, despite debts some construction projects are still underway.

During his meeting with Lukashenka, Maduro claimed the moment was right for relaunching joint projects. He called for renewing agreements in the field of industry and agriculture. Maduro wants his Belarusian friends to believe that Venezuela is now “at a good point for economic recovery and growth.” However, some experts claim that the country is heading to bankruptcy.

Lukashenka predictably pledged that “Venezuelans can always count on the support of friendly Belarus.” Officials of the two countries will soon meet to draw a plan of specific measures to restore economic relations. However, Belarus hardly intends resuming the implementation of joint projects and massive deliveries of goods to sisterly Venezuela without upfront payments or sound financial guarantees.

A working holiday in the sun-drenched Emirates

Alexander Lukashenka spent two weeks, from 25 October to 6 November, in the United Arab Emirates. Lukashenka’s press service announced his “working visit” to this Middle Eastern monarchy. They also reported the President’s intention to stay as a guest there “for a couple of days” at the invitation of his Emirati hosts.

The only working element of the Belarusian leader’s visit to the UAE was a short meeting with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. Viktor Lukashenka, the President’s eldest son and his national security adviser, accompanied his father to this meeting—a clear sign that arms sales remained among priority topics under discussion.

Despite Lukashenka’s efforts to boost economic cooperation with this rich Arab country, trade figures remain modest. The turnover between Belarus and the UAE attained $29.7m in 2015 and $37.9m in 2016—a far cry from the target figure of $500m set three years ago.

It is true that turnover reached a new high in January–August 2017, increasing by a factor of 2.8 times. However, this spectacular result is due chiefly to $20m delivery of BelAZ trucks to the UAE.

During his “working holiday” in the Emirates, Lukashenka also met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who happened to be making a working visit to the country. The Belarusian leader might take lessons from Poroshenko on how to build successful relations with Middle Eastern regimes. Ukraine’s trade with the UAE in 2016 was nine times greater than Belarus’s, reaching $341m. The Ukrainian leader also secured a deal on a visa-free regime between the two countries.

Belarus’s willingness to work pragmatically with any international partner has failed to produce noticeable economic benefits. These efforts need to be supplemented by the resolute modernisation of the national economy. Modernisation remains very difficult without full normalisation of relations with the West, which, in its turn, is impossible without serious democratisation efforts.




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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 EaP Summit

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

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

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

Security

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

Картинки по запросу парад независимости минск 2017

Photo: tut.by

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

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

Economy

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

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

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

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

Wargaming workers in Minsk. Photo: New York Times

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

Civil society

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

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

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

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.




Belarus-Ukraine trade, talks with IMF, upgraded Palanez, Hrodna visa-free zone – Belarus state press digest

Belarus and Ukraine want to achieve an $8bn trade turnover and have “no political problems at all.” Foreign Minister Makiej: Belarus does not want to depend on anyone else—whether it be Washington, Brussels, or Moscow. Belarus tests the upgraded version of the Palanez multiple rocket launcher.

The government admits it negotiates with the IMF to improve its reputation, not to get loans. The external public debt of Belarus reaches 30 per cent of GDP. The Hrodna visa-free zone earns $10m during its first year of operation, yet many problems remain.

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

Foreign policy

Belarus and Ukraine want to achieve an $8bn trade turnover. The presidents of Belarus and Ukraine held a meeting in the United Arab Emirates during their working visits to the country, writes Belarus Segodnia. As Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka stated, trade turnover between the countries already amounts to over $3bn, in spite of all kinds of problems and obstacles. There are hopes that further cooperation among the two countries’ regions can more than double this figure.

In July of this year, during an official visit of the president of Belarus to Ukraine, leaders set a goal to restore the highest level of mutual trade from past years and bring it up to $8bn. Strengthening inter-regional ties was defined as the main tool to achieve the goal. “As for political interaction, we have no problems at all. We absolutely follow the course on which we agreed earlier,” Lukashenka said.

Lukashenka meets Ukrainian president Poroshenko in the UAE. Photo: BELTA

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makiej gave an interview to Financial Times. According to the quotes from the interview published by Zviazda, Belarus does not want to depend on anyone else—whether it be Washington, Brussels, or Moscow. The country just wants to pursue a truly independent policy. Belarus seeks to diversify trade and economic relations, and the EU plays an important role in these aspirations.

Today, not only states, but also unions of states in different regions of the world need to establish cooperation, said the foreign minister. In Europe, it is the European Union on one side and the Eurasian Economic Union on the other. The minister also told the interviewer that the government plans to increase the length of the visa-free stay period in Belarus to up to 30 days, yet this decision will be implemented gradually.

Security

Belarus tests the upgraded Palanez. The Belarusian military have successfully conducted a test launch of the upgraded version of the Palanez multiple rocket launcher in the Homiel region. The missiles struck assigned targets and confirmed declared tactical and technical characteristics in terms of range and accuracy. With the latest modifications, the missile system allows attacking of targets within a radius of up to 300 km, writes Belarus Segodnia.

The long-range Palanez multiple-launch rocket system was created by the Belarusian defence industry and corresponds to the world’s best analogous missile systems. In the future, the upgraded Palanez missile system will equip the rocket and artillery units of the Belarusian Armed Forces, which will significantly enhance their capabilities.

What’s on Belarus’s black list? The Information Ministry of Belarus updated the list of extremist materials prohibited from dissemination according to the Law on Combatting Extremism, reports Zviazda. The new list contains a few types of written and online materials. Radical Orthodox and Russian nationalist materials, radical Muslim, Nazi, and anarchist themes occupy roughly a 25 per cent of each type. Opposition-related materials occupy only a few places on the list and most of them date to before 2010.

Economy

The external public debt of Belarus reaches $16,3bn, or 30 per cent of GDP. In January–September 2017, the country borrowed $3.4bn, of which $1,4bn came from issuing Eurobonds, $1.1bn from the Russian government and banks, and $600m from the Eurasian Stabilisation and Development Fund. Belarus’s recent creditors also include Chinese banks, the IBRD, the EBRD, and the Nordic Investment Bank. For a few years already, Belarus has had to allocate more than $3bn annually to repay existing debts. In 2018, the country will repay a record-breaking $3.7bn in debt.

A large part of this debt arose when the government borrowed for the modernisation of state companies hoping that later they would become profitable. But that did not happen. The state must now repay their loans. Moreover, it continues to help inefficient enterprises at the expense of the state budget. Another major problem is the need for foreign currency to service the debt. Additional new loans remain the main source for debt repayments.

Belarus negotiates with the IMF for reputation, not loans. First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vasiĺ Maciušeŭski during the annual October Economic Forum in Minsk stressed that cooperation with the IMF is necessary for Belarus not so much to obtain loans, as to improve the reputation of the country in the eyes of potential investors, reports Belarus Segodnia. “Market participants traditionally view the IMF as a global auditor. We just need a dialogue with the IMF, so that they confirm that we are moving in the right direction, that there are no threats for investors,” Maciušeŭski explained.

The vice-premier also said that in the course of the last discussion of a program with the IMF, the sides appeared to have different visions of the speed of implementation of certain policies. “And we explained why: reform for the sake of reform is probably wrong. Reforms are conducted in order to increase the effectiveness of something and get some result, which the society will understand and support. When society does not support reforms, it is better not to conduct them. There is a good thesis: the discrediting of a programs is worse than not implementing it,” he stated.

Augustow Canal in the Hrodna visa-free zone. Photo: sb.by

Hrodna visa-free zone summarises its first year of operation. In 2017, 43,000 tourists from 65 countries visited the Hrodna visa-free zone, reports Respublika. The city of Hrodna earned $10m from this policy. The new visa regime has led to the growth of new tourist infrastructure: the number of travel agencies engaged in inbound tourism has increased nine-fold; nine new cafés have opened and 30 outlets have began to provide duty-free services; and a few new hotels and hostels have appeared.

An average tourist spends 60–70 euros each trip and mainly buys sweets, alcohol, textiles and knitwear, shoes, medicines, and handmade souvenirs. However, the infrastructure of the region remains insufficient, as parking spaces, hotels, cafes and restaurants still cannot satisfy demand.

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.