2016 Parliamentary Campaign, Army Modernisation, Belarusian Yearbook 2016 – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Belarusian authorities relax pressure on the opposition during election campaign in order to normalise relations with EU and US. The Ostrogorski Centre finalises the project supporting research papers on foreign policy, security, and education policy in Belarus. Unreformed economy slows the modernisation of Belarusian army.
CSO Sustainability Index of 2015 released: Belarus has improved its position by 0.1 point. Belarusian Yearbook 2016 is available in Russian and English. Mediakritika.by on hate speech in Belarusian media. This and more in the new Digest of Belarusian Analytics.
Parliamentary elections 2016
Will the Opposition Be Allowed to Get To Parliament This Time? – Artyom Shraibman, TUT.BY and associate analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre, notes that the upcoming parliamentary elections are special because of the intense warming of relations with the EU. Nevertheless, Lukashenka will not allow the opposition to get to the parliament; he will hold a more transparent campaign instead and dilute the parliament with loyal political parties – it should maintain the current sluggish, but positive dynamics in the EU relations.
Belarusian Authorities Relax Pressure On Opposition During Election Campaign In Order To Normalise Relations With EU and US – Belarus in Focus analysts believe that in anticipation of a positive feedback from the West, the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to put obstacles for the opposition in the ongoing parliamentary campaign. Regardless of the high competition for a parliamentary seat, Belarusian electorate remains rather passive and apolitical.
Belarus Foreign Policy Index #32 (May and June 2016) – In its regular product BISS explores Belarus’s foreign policy in the five key dimensions – Russia, EU, Ukraine, Chine and the developing world. In May-June, relations with Russia evolved constructively. A level of contacts between Belarus and the European Union becomes much higher. Belarusian-Chinese relations were focused on the potash theme.
Foreign Policy, Security, and Education Policy in Belarus – In July the Ostrogorski Centre successfully completed the project producing eight research papers in the areas of foreign policy, security and education of Belarus. The project was supported by the grant from the Mott Foundation and implemented in cooperation with the Pontis Foundation. Please find a publication of paper abstracts here.
Minsk Seeks to Demonstrate to NATO its Independence – Belarus in Focus analysts believe that Minsk continues maneuvering between the West and Russia in anticipation to cooperate with each party to the conflict. Minsk aims to establish multi-level communication channels with the West, while it offers further cooperation in the security field to Russia. That said, the Belarusian authorities are not ready to commit to the West in the security field.
Unreformed economy slows modernization of Belarusian army. Alexander Alesin, a military analyst, believes that a modest economic capacity of the country not only hinders the modernization of the Belarusian army, but, in the negative case scenario, may lead to a reduction in its combat potential. While the Belarusian army is advanced in terms of the soldiers’ training, it has outdated, still Soviet weapons, military equipment, and infrastructure.
Key Challenges in Foreign Gratuitous Aid Legislation – Legal Transformation Centre Lawtrend analyses the first months of a new legislation on foreign donations. The main conclusion is that the current legislation of the Republic of Belarus establishes a complex and cumbersome procedure for obtaining, registration and use of foreign gratuitous aid and does not take into account the specifics of CSOs.
Is Belarusian Government Interested in Supporting CSOs? – Olga Smolyanka, the Centre for Legal Transformation Lawtrend, analyses the current situation in the Belarusian CSO sector and formulates the key concern – an individual non-transparent support by the state. To change this approach, first of all, authorities should stop seeing enemies in CSOs and, finally, recognise their social benefit. Then it's possible to develop legislation on the cooperation of CSOs and the state, including financial issues.
Human Rights Situation in Belarus: June 2016 – Human rights Centre Viasna has released its monthly monitoring that shows that June was not marked by any systemic changes demonstrating the authorities’ commitment to improving the country’s human rights situation. The overwhelming majority of the unauthorised peaceful assemblies was not forcibly stopped, however, the participants continued to be brought to administrative responsibility in the form of fines.
2015 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia – Belarus has improved it position by 0.1 points but remains in a niche of “impeded sustainability” as the previous 15 years. Namely, slight improvements are noticed in reduced government harassment, successful advocacy campaigns, use of online crowdfunding platforms, social contracting, grassroots organising, and public image. Developed by USAID, The Index reports on the CSO sectors in over 20 countries in the region.
Belarusian Yearbook 2016 – The annual book presents a comprehensive analysis of the key developments and current status of the main sectors of the state and society in 2015. Three processes determined the political agenda – the presidential election, normalisation of Belarus’s relationship with the West, and the economic recession. The CSO trends are reflected in the “Society” section.
Study: Gender Aspects of Hate Speech in the Belarusian Media – Mediakritika.by together with the EHU Centre for Gender Studies presents the results of a study on the use of hate speech in the Belarusian media. The experts analysed both the state and independent media from January to March 2016. The key finding is that the language of hostility is used in all reviewed media on different groups and individuals for various topics.
U.S. Military Band Tests the Soft Edge of Hard Power in Belarus – The Wall Street Journal writes on the Air Force band’s jazz ensemble that spent six days in Belarus playing concerts around the country. The visits were the brainchild of Scott Rauland, the chargé d’affaires in the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. The band’s visits, he said, were “really effective diplomacy” and a chance to restart a diplomatic relationship largely frozen after the 2008 expulsion of American diplomats from Belarus.
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.
2016 Ostrogorski Forum: Can Belarus be Neutral in the Shadow of Russia?
On 29 June the Ostrogorski Centre held the first Ostrogorski Forum on foreign policy and security in Minsk.
The theme of this year's conference was 'Inertia, strengthening neutrality or changing the foreign policy orientation? Foreign policy in Belarus at the present stage'.
The programme featured prominent Belarusian experts, both pro-government and independent, as well as government officials and academics from state universities. Researchers from leading Belarusian think tanks presented their papers and were critiqued by experts with opposing political orientations. The research papers were supported by the grant from the Mott Foundation and jointly implemented by the Pontis Foundation and the Ostrogorski Centre.
The Ostrogorski Forum is expected to become an annual event to promote professional and respectful dialogue between experts with different political views. This article provides a summary of the key themes of the Forum in English as well as full-length videos of the event in Belarusian.
Key messages of the 2016 Ostrogorski Forum
A number of speakers spoke of the need to view Belarusian foreign policy in a less binary way: more attention should be paid to the real interests of Belarus rather than the confrontation between Russia and the West. A more pragmatic and less ideological approach may help foster better relations with all of Belarus's neighbours and live up to the principle of neutrality enshrined in the Constitution of Belarus.
At the same time both pro-opposition and pro-government experts agreed that Russia would not permit Belarus to cross certain red lines, the most important of which being leaving Moscow-promoted integration initiatives such as the Eurasian Economic Union. An obvious geopolitical re-orientation could trigger a reaction from Russia resembling its actions in Ukraine.
The ability of Belarus to resist a Donbas-like scenario caused significant debate. Some argued that compared to Ukraine Belarus is less corrupt, and its military and state administration remain in much better shape. On the other hand, the weak national identity of Belarusians, the large number of Russian-born and educated senior military commanders, and the pervasiveness of Russian media make Belarus look weaker.
Most participants agreed that the domination of Russian media in Belarus represents one of the greatest challenges to Belarusian statehood. The popularly of Russian media is explained not only by generous funding but also by the fact that Russia has strongly articulated messages on its foreign policy, internal politics, and security. Belarus, on the other hand, has very few issues where it articulates its position; Belarusian media do not have their own message. This explains why many Belarusians supported the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
The participants also disagreed as to whether Moscow might soon become more assertive in Belarus given its deployment of troops close to the Belarusian border. Some argued that Russia is signalling its readiness to intervene in Belarus on short notice, while others thought that Belarus has done nothing to provoke Russia and Russia's interest are already protected in the country.
Some experts argued that Russian integration projects in the former Soviet Union will die a natural death. With the prices of oil and gas remaining low and a lack of modernisation and foreign investments in the region, integration projects become increasingly unattractive, which may explain why Russia increasingly resorts to the use of force or threats of force abroad.
The main threat to Belarusian statehood comes from a lack of pluralism in Belarusian political institutions. With no representatives of the opposition allowed in the parliament, courts, or executive, the statehood of Belarus is fragile. Allowing more pluralism in Belarus's political institutions would help Belarusian society reach a consensus on issues of critical importance for Belarusian statehood and independence. Allowing moderate representatives of the opposition into parliament would be a small step in this direction.
Ostrogorski Forum: introduction
Speaker: Yaraslau Kryvoi, Director of the Ostrogorski Centre, Editor in Chief of Belarus Digest
Soft power of Belarus in the region: assessment of potential impact
Speaker: Dzianis Melyantsou, senior analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies.
Opponent: Aliaksandr Shpakouski, director of informational and educational institution "Current Concept".
Moderator: Artyom Shraibman, political observer of TUT.by and associate analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre.
Russian-Belarusian relations after the conflict in Ukraine
Speaker: Ryhor Astapenia, development director and analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre.
Opponent: Uladzimir Snapkouski, professor of the Faculty of International Relations, Belarusian State University.
Moderator: Andrei Dynko, chief editor of Nasha Niva newspaper.
Challenges to Belarusian foreign policy and CIS countries after 2008
Speaker: Andrei Valodzkin, researcher at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.
Opponents: Arsen Sivitski, director of the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies; Aliaksandr Filipau, Dean of the Faculty of additional education of the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts and analyst at the Liberal Club.
Moderator: Yaraslau Kryvoi, director of the Ostrogorski Centre.
Neutrality: ideal or reality
Speaker: Siarhei Bohdan, a doctoral student of the Free University of Berlin and associate analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre.
Opponent: Valer Karbalevich, expert of the analytical centre "Strategy".
Moderator: Vital Tsyhankou, journalist of Radio Liberty.
Geopolitical orientation of Belarusians: sociological analysis and survey
Speaker: Andrei Eliseyeu, analytical journalist of the portal BEL.BIZ
Opponent: Alena Artsiomenka, analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies.
Moderator: Andrei Aliaksandrau, chief editor of the online resource Belarusian Journal.