Advocacy crowdfunding in Belarus: the best projects of 2016
On 15 December, the best Belarusian crowdfunded projects of 2016 received awards in Minsk. 15 finalists received funding totaling $19,500. Crowdfunding has become one of the simplest and most accessible forms of civic participation. In a nondemocratic environment, crowdfunding is one of the safest ways of practising social activism.
The best Belarusian campaigns of 2016 were mainly related to social and cultural issues, whereas few projects considered human rights or the environment. The relative unpopularity of such themes can be explained by potential conflict with state interests.
Crowdfunding as a resource for advocacy in Belarus
Crowdfunding is often referred to as a new form of civic participation. According to statistics, in 2014 the world crowdfunding market came to $16bn, while in 2015 the number was more than $34bn. However, in Belarus even traditional forms of civic participation struggle to engage the wider public. The small number of NGOs, passive engagement in public hearings, and a low level of public awareness are all symptoms of the passive and non-participatory nature of Belarusian civil society.
Nevertheless, in 2016 Belarusians demonstrated an unprecedentedly high level of civic participation through crowdfunding. Currently, several platforms help finance crowdfunded projects in Belarus: Talakosht, Ulej, and Maesens. The first two platforms, Talakosht and Ulej, allow users to create a project online and offers non-material support. Maesens suggests collecting money specifically for social projects by offering an auction of meetings.
In addition, Maesens organises an annual contest called 'Social Weekend', in which citizens and experts choose the best projects for financial support. 15 finalists of the 2016 'Social Weekend' received funding from Maesens, while most of the other 40 projects received money through crowdfunding.
The most popular genre of projects on Talakosht, Ulej and Maesens are humanitarian, cultural,å and publishing projects. Examples of notable projects on Talashkot include a translation of The Chronicles of Narnia and a fundraiser for Belarusian athlete Vital Hurkou. Other recent campaigns have included a fundraiser for Nasha Niva investigations and Christmas gifts for Belarusian orphans.
The most successful projects manage to combine crowdfunding with other advocacy tools. Imena magazine, the Swamps Protection Campaign, and the Adnak festival of Belarusian advertising are particularly noteworthy examples.
Charity, Swamps, and a Belarusian Advertising Festival
The largest and most successful crowdfunding campaign of the year has been a project called Imena (Names). The format of the magazine is unique to Belarus. Besides covering personal stories, the magazine offers readers the option of supporting groups in need. Imena also allows visitors to its website to create their own projects and organise fundraising campaigns. The project raised more than $21,000 for the magazine itself and $35,000 to support seriously ill children.
The founder Katsiaryna Seniuk was named 'person of the year' for stimulating Belarusians to participate more actively in society. Seniuk highlights the importance of motivating Belarusians to act and participate rather than just being aware of problems. The project has proved that Belarusian society can change and mobilise to provide essential support for groups in need. On 23 December the Assembly of Belarusian NGOs named the magazine the best media project of the year.
An older but equally successful advocacy project aims to protect Belarusian swamps. The In Defence of Belarusian Swamps campaign emerged as a project to inform Belarusians about the importance of wetlands. The organisers collected signatures and signed appeals to the local authorities in the regions where wetlands are most endangered.
In many cases, the authorities overturned decisions to drain swamps. This year, the project used crowdfunding to gather money to support the creation of a guide to Belarusian swamps. The campaign was also able to persuade authorities to adopt a strategy for conservation and sustainable use of peatlands.
A final example is a campaign for the Adnak Belarusian advertisement festival. Over the last 7 years, the operation of the festival has depended on sponsors. However, this year's campaign to promote Belarusian language and culture through advertising garnered additional material support via crowdfunding platforms. According to ulej.by, the Adnak campaign is one of the most successfully implemented projects, collecting more than $7,000 over a short period.
The organisers encouraged those interested to actively participate through fundraising. Nina Shydlouskaya, the head of the project, reports that the majority of the campaign's goals have been achieved. The campaign was the second most popular crowdfunded project at Ulej in 2016.
The Less Political, the More to Successful
Crowdfunding has become a significant part of civic activism in Belarus. With the development of technology, crowdfunding is growing as a resource and tool for advocacy in the world. In 2016, Belarus saw a significant increase in social participation via material support for projects spread on the Internet.
Top 10 projects at crowdfunding platforms, the best projects on Maesens, and Imena magazine demonstrate that the most successful projects in Belarus in 2016 are humanitarian, cultural and publishing projects. Some experienced advocacy campaigns, such as Budzma or In Defense of Belarusian Swamps employed crowdfunding as a new resource and were able to receive the financial support they required.
It seems that only projects with a low-level of politicisation can be successful in Belarus: advocacy and crowdfunding practises indicate that non-political projects received the most support in 2016. At the same time, neither Ulej, Talakosht, Maesens, or other platforms hosted projects promoting human rights defence, energy, or other topics which could possibly clash with the state’s interests. In a non-democratic environment, projects with a high degree of politicisation have only a small chance of survival.
Despite the increase in civic activism in Belarus during 2016, it is hard to picture how projects with politicised goals, such as Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty or the Antinuclear Campaign could achieve significant results. However, crowdfunding has allowed many Belarusian to safely participate in the civic life of the country by funding important and problematic projects while remaining anonymous.
US investments, arrest of anti-Belarusian journalists, corruption – Belarus state press digest
Belarus aims to expand its cooperation with Malaysia and hosts another high-level visit from Poland. The Belarusian delegation visits the US to discuss economic cooperation and investment with state agencies and corporations.
The authorities arrest three Belarus-based journalists from the Russian media on charges of propagating extremism. The KGB discloses large-scale corruption schemes within the state procurement system.
This and more in the new edition of Belarusian state press digest.
Belarus expands its cooperation with Malaysia. Zviazda reports on Lukashenka’s meeting with Speaker of the House of Representatives of Malaysia Pandikaram Amines Mulia. The Belarusian leader stated that Belarus is interested in developing relations with Malaysia 'because it does not attach conditions to relations as some other countries do. Belarus will likewise refrain from putting forward any conditions'.
Lukashenka also stressed the need to increase trade between the two countries and develop inter-parliamentary political cooperation. During the meeting, the representatives of Belarus and Malaysia discussed possible cooperation in high-tech, industry, tourism, and education. Lukashenka also announced his intention to pay an official visit to Malaysia.
Another high-level official visit from Poland. Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Stanislaw Karczewski, the Marshal of the Polish Senate, conducted negotiations in Minsk. The Minsk Times reports that Karczewski emphasised that Belarus is a place of stability and security in Eastern Europe, although some countries have previously overlooked it. The officials discussed the importance of shared history, and agreed that political interaction should follow the business interests of the countries.
Specifically, the parties agreed on the importance of trade intensification. The senator also visited the Council of the Republic, where the two sides signed an agreement on education. Michail Miasnikovič, the Chairman of the Council, noted that the successful cooperation between the Belarusian and Polish parliaments this year will have a positive impact on the Belarusian parliament’s contacts with other parliaments across the EU.
The authorities arrest three Russian media contributors based in Belarus for 'incitement of racial, ethnic, religious, or other social hatred or discord.' Zviazda reported that the three writers worked for the Russian publications REGNUM, LENTA.RU, and Eurasіa Daіly. The Investigative Committee analysed 500 materials and found elements of extremism in 120 of them, according to Belarusian Minister of Information Lilija Ananič.
Ananič said that the publications question the sovereignty of Belarus, and were insulting to the authorities, nation, history, language, and culture of Belarus. They repeatedly claimed that 'Belarus is moving to the West' and that 'the Belarusian government conducts anti-Russian policies'.
Belarusian authorities had earlier sent requests to explain the situation to the Russian Ministry of Communications and the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications. Russian officials replied that these publications 'are produced by marginalised authors and in no way represent the position of the Russian leadership, which consistently strives to deepen Russian-Belarusian cooperation'. The readers and authors of such articles are obviously trying to sow discord between Belarus and Russia, Ananič concluded.
The State Security Committee (KGB) of Belarus uncovers a large-scale bribery scheme. The company BelABM, which specialises in IT and business process automation, organised a corruption scheme involving government officials, reports Belarus Segodnia. The scheme was uncovered on 15 December when the CEO of BelABM Dzmitry Ronin gave a bribe of $20,000 to the manager of the Social Protection Fund of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Liudmila Bačyla. In doing so, Ronin intended to secure his company’s win of a state procurement tender.
On the same day, the KGB detained Alieh Vieramiejčyk, the chairman of the non-bank financial institution Single Settlement and Information Space. They also detained representatives of the National Bank Anatol Maroz and Kaciaryna Paŭloŭskaja on the same charges: corruption deals with BelABM in the area of state procurement.
A Belarusian delegation visits the United States to discuss investments and loans. On 6-10 December a Belarusian economic delegation visited Washington at the invitation of the Congress of the United States, writes Zviazda. The delegation included deputy head of the Presidential Administration Mikalaj Snapkoŭ, head of the Ideology Department of the Presidential Administration Usievalad Jančeŭski, and representatives of the National Bank, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Economy, and other ministries.
The Belarusian delegation held talks in a number of key US governmental agencies: the State Department, the Department of Commerce, the Office of the US Trade Representative, the Federal Communications Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The delegation held working meetings with the leadership of the Emerging Market Private Equity Association and the US corporations Microsoft, AGCO, Case New Holland, and others. The sides discussed investment projects to be implemented in Belarus. The delegation also held talks with Deputy Managing Director of the IMF Mitsuhiro Furusawa concerning preparation of the IMF programme for Belarus.
Mahilioŭ introduces the first 2nd generation energy-efficient apartment complex in Belarus. As Mahilioŭskija Viedamasci notes, the building heats water with solar power as well as wastewater, while air can be heated with a special conditioning system. This allows savings of up to 40% for water and 60% for apartment heating.
The house was designed by Belarusians specialists with financial support from UNDP and the Global Ecological Fund. Funding from international organisations totalled $1mn, or 15 per cent of construction costs. The apartment complex will soon house 160 large families.
Belarus and Poland negotiate the development of the Augustow Canal. The first meeting of a joint working group of the authorities of Hrodna region in Belarus and Podlasie voivodeship of Poland took place in Bialystok, writes Hrodzienskaja Praŭda. The group discussed the development of Augustow Canal, which shares a border legacy with Belarus and Poland. They discussed simplifications of cross border movement of tourists and joint technical regulation of the canal's operations.
The group considered the possibility of allowing water vessels to move between the Polish town of Augustow via the canal and the Nioman river in Belarus. The sides agreed to jointly promote the tourist potential of the Augustow Canal and exchange information and provide media support to each other.
The state press digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.