This June the Ostrogorski Centre launched the Ostrogorski Academy – a nonprofit educational project dedicated to disseminating knowledge of the humanities. The academy is the first Belarusian entirely online 'university’, based on a series of lectures, tests, podcasts on important and engaging topics. Ostrogorski Centre analysts discussed how Belarus's neighbours doubt its sovereignty, brain drain, and religiosity in the country. The Centre also held in Minsk the Ostrogorski Forum 2017, which focused on foreign policy, security, and identity.
According to recent QS World University Rankings, two Belarusian universities appeared on the list of the best 959 universities in the world. The Belarusian State University received a higher rating than all universities in Poland and Lithuania. Nevertheless, despite the high position of two Belarusian universities, higher education in the country still faces serious issues, including restriction of academic freedom, dependence on the state, and plagiarism. According to QS, Belarusian universities score highly in student teacher ratio. However, this criteria appears unimportant when deeper flaws in Belarusian higher education are taken into account.
Eugene Rumor, Carnegie Endowment, argues that post-2014 Belarus is a less reliable satellite for Russia and the West should calibrate its policy accordingly. Grigory Ioffe breaks down recent harsh statements by Dalia Grybauskaitė and Svetlana Aleksievich. OSW: energy dispute between Minsk and Moscow is not completely resolved. Yauheni Preiherman believes that Belarus’ foreign policy cannot be grasped by the classic bandwagoning-balancing dichotomy. IPM fresh survey: one third of Belarusian private businesses consider corruption widespread. CET presents an analytical overview that summarises data of sociological and sectoral studies of 2014-2017 related to the Belarusian CSOs.
On 7 June 2017, the Microsoft Corporation held a Government Industry Day at Belarus’s Hi-Tech Park with the participation of both Belarusian ministers and Microsoft experts. The seminar addressed issues surrounding the digital transformation of the economy and aimed to present technologies that could work for the finance, transport, health, education, and other economic sectors to the Belarusian authorities. IT has become the fastest-growing sector in the Belarusian economy, increasing by over 20% annually. However, the nature of the industry in Belarus, which focuses on outsourcing, primarily targets foreign customers. This is partially due to the reluctance of the Belarusian state to embrace tech achievements at home.
Numbeo, the world's largest database of user-confirmed data about cities and countries worldwide, ranked Belarus the safest country in the region in 2017. Other global metrics also indicate that Belarus is a relatively safe part of the world. Domestic trends demonstrate that all kinds of crime have decreased over the past decade, with the exception of drug crime. However, political repression tarnishes the generally positive picture, as world media and local journalists report on these cases extensively. The authorities should stop targeting the regime's opponents if they want to further develop relations with the civilised world and strengthen the rule of law at home.
Greenmap Belarus wins a UN competition. 3rd Urban Picnic in Mahilioŭ gathers over 6,000 citizens. A new initiative makes Minsk as green as possible. EESC organises 10th annual United Students of Belarus Rally. BEROC opens enrolment to the 7th Student School in Economics. KGB drops criminal charges in the preparation for mass riots case against Young Front activists. UN Special Rapporteur presents a new report on Belarus.
Despite all of Minsk's efforts to present itself as a neutral country, some of its neighbours doubt not only its neutrality but even its sovereignty and commitment to peace. On 5 June, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė described Belarus as a threat to the region; meanwhile, her foreign minister repeatedly alludes to the 'remnants of Belarusian sovereignty.' Speaking on 19 June at the Ostrogorski Forum, Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus Ihor Kizima criticised Minsk for refusing to allow foreign observers to monitor a Belarus-Russian-Serbian military exercise in Belarus near the Ukrainian border earlier this month. Kyiv put its army on higher alert because of the exercise.
On 19 June 2017 the Ostrogorski Centre is holding a conference on the challenges to the Belarusian political and economic model in the new international environment, possible ways to prevent further deterioration and find solutions to major problems. The issue will be considered in the three aspects: foreign policy, security and identity.
Many in Belarus took the recent discovery of new oil fields in the country as a joke: president Alexander Lukashenka had demanded earlier that the government start searching for its own black gold. According to experts, however, these deposits were already known. It was only the complexity of extraction that had prevented the mining of these deposits before. However, officials now claim that Belarusian oil costs five times less than Russian oil, and extraction will be profitable even with world oil prices at $20 per barrel.
On 6-7 May, Moldova’s Prime Minister Pavel Filip held a supercharged working visit to Belarus, meeting with the country’s top officials, kicking off several events, and discussing a wide range of issues, from trade to culture. Despite serious recent setbacks in bilateral trade, Moldova remains an important economic partner for Belarus in the post-Soviet space. Unlike Russia, Belarus has no problem with Moldova's geopolitical orientation towards Europe, instead trying to use this factor to its advantage. Will the recent election of the pro-Russian politician Igor Dodon to the Moldovan presidency affect the two countries’ economic cooperation?
On 12 May, Alexander Lukašenka suddenly announced that starting in September, school children would start class at 9:00 am rather than 8:00. This reform would give children an extra hour of sleep. However, many maintain that the change would be just another formality, without actually improving the condition of school education. Meanwhile, the increasing ideologisation of schools, the lack of funding, and low wages for teachers remain much more serious obstacles to Belarusian education. The legacy of the Soviet Union is still obvious in Belarusian schools, and this factor hinders the development of general education. Instead of changing pupils' schedules, the authorities should focus on developing study programmes, guaranteeing more freedom for teachers, and opening schools up for civil society activism.
Agreements concluded in May of this year between the Belarusian High Tech Park and Uber, along with the opening of an R&D centre for the Israeli company Gett, demonstrate the growing success of the Belarusian IT industry. Dave Waiser, Gett’s CEO, compared Belarus to Israel in terms of its small domestic market for retail business, but big opportunities for IT export for worldwide use. Over the past decade, Belarusian IT services have grown by almost 50, with export reaching $900m – a number which is growing at a rate of 20 per cent and currently constitutes 12 per cent of Belarusian export. Out of the 1,000 IT companies in Belarus, only 24 belong to the state. The largest IT companies, which operate in Belarus’s most promising industry and do most of their business abroad, put continuous effort into ensuring the industry continues to grow.
On 2 June, at a governmental meeting on oil industry problems, Alexander Lukashenka blamed managers and the government for lacking an adequate development strategy for the industry. The Belarusian oil industry showed negative results in 2016. Belarus and Russia decided against the idea of a unified visa in favour of mutual visa recognition. Belarus should fear the informational war between Russia and the West, not a hypothetical occupation during the West 2017 military drills. According to former foreign minister Piotr Kraŭčanka, the national idea of Belarus should include shared values and identity, historical memory, language, consensus on domestic and foreign policy, and a market economy.
In May, Minsk continued its policy of following in Moscow’s footsteps by exploiting World War II for political purposes. On Victory Day, Belarusian diplomats made statements about alleged ‘attempts to falsify history’. Foreign minister Vladimir Makei invited diplomats posted in Minsk to a controversial historical site featuring a monument to Joseph Stalin. The United Nations supported a Belarusian initiative to honour professional translators and interpreters. This move may also have practical benefits for the country, which has a strong academic tradition in training professional translators.