Arrests for Egging Lenin and the People’s Assembly – Politics and Civil Society Digest
Last week Belarusian civil society and security services were preoccupied with the People’s Assemblies, the progress of the Ales Bialiatski trial and a discussion about proposed legislative amendments and restricting the freedom of assembly. Public debate on the future of National Civil Society Platform and economic reforms also appeared to be gaining momentum. None of the 19 December political prisoners were released last week.
Participants in the 7 November anti-Communist action near Lenin monument sentenced to arrest. On 8 November “Young Front” activists Mikhail Muski, Siarhei Paval and Raman Vasiliieu, who had thrown eggs at the Lenin monument on Nezalezhnast Square in Minsk during the Bolshevik Revolution celebration, were found guilty of “disorderly conduct”. Muski and Paval were sentenced to 7 days and Vasillieu to 10 days arrest.
Detentions and trials of People’s Assembly organizers. On 11 November Baranavichy city court found Viktar Myarzyak and Viktar Syritsa guilty of violating the Law On Mass Events during the People’s Assembly and sentenced each of the defendants to a fine of 850,000 rubles (roughly $100).
On 11 November a Bobruisk court sentenced Konstantin Loktev and Galina Smirnova, members of the People’s Assembly organizing committee. Earlier, Yuriy Buzinayev, leader of Bobruisk UCP chapter, was sentenced to 10 days in jail on the same charges.
Vasil Paliakou, a member of the People’s Assembly in Homel, was detained on 8 November. This is considered to be a preventive arrest in view of the second People’s Assembly being set to be held soon. A member of the organizing committee was given a warning regarding the violation of the Law On Mass Events.
Arrests after Dzyady rally. Yuriy Novitskiy and Uladzimir Yukho sentenced to 7 days of arrest on charges of hooliganism. The activists were detained after a commemorative procession in honor of victims of Stalin’s Repressions on 7 November.
Statkevich threatened with his family's arrest. The former presidential candidate has been threatened with the imprisonment of his wife and a son if he refuses to sign a petition for pardon. Statkevich says that this is not a surprise for him and he expected such a sequence of events.
Criminal case against BPF activists reopened. The criminal case against three members of the Belarusian Popular Front (Maksim Hubarevich, Ales Kalita and Siarhei Semianiuk) has been reopened. They are suspected of beating a security guard on 13 August in the building of the BFP office.
Dmitry Drozd not allowed to leave the country. A former political prisoner and activist of the European Belarus campaign has been forbidden from crossing the Belarusian-Lithuanian border and was taken off the train by border guards.
Public debate on the role of National Civil Society Platform continues. On 6 November 2011, the Chairman of the Temporary Managing Committee of the National Civil Society Platform Vladimir Matskevich published a response to the open letter circulated last week by 13 NGO members of the platform. Mr. Matskevich welcomes the open letter and urges further dialogue to elaborate a coordinated position regarding the strategy for the development of a Civil Society Platform.
NGO Perspektyva in talks with Minsk authorities over Chervenski market closure. On 8 November, Perspetkyva leaders met with the Entrepreneurship Department at the Ministry of Economy to discuss the situation regarding the ongoing controversy over the closure of the Chervenskiy market in Minsk. As a result of the meeting, the Ministry informed Perspektyva, that Minsk Mayor Mikhail Ladutko will be available for a follow-up meeting to discuss solutions.
Civic Education Conference. On 4-5 November the Association of Additional Education, the EuroBelarus Consortium and Forum Syd held a conference dedicated to civic education and civic competencies in Belarus. Conference participants, which included over 30 Belarusian NGOs and experts, developed a number of recommendations towards the expansion and improvement of the quality of civic education in Belarus.
ALDA Announces a Mini-Grant Program. ALDA and its Belarusian partners Lev Sapieha Foundation and the Belarusian Organization of Working Women announced the launch of the TAMDEM project. The project will focus on supporting civic initiatives that build sustainable relations and cooperation between civil society organizations and local authorities in 2012-2013.
“Tell the truth!” campaign reminded of Ales Byalatsky. Weekends were marked by the actions supporting the leader of human rights organization “Vyasna”. In Brest, for instance, activists distributed leaflets with the text “He has thought about you for years, think about him for at least for a minute”.
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.
China Helps an Ailing Autocracy
On 8 November Minsk signed a deal with Dagong Credit Rating Co Ltd, China’s largest credit ratings agency, to assess its sovereign credit rating. State-owned Dagong may issue a more favorable rating than the US agency Standard & Poor’s, which downgraded Belarus from B to B- in late September.
The deal is part and parcel of Beijing’s bailout for Belarus – in September, China inked a deal to provide a $1 bn bailout loan by end of 2011, on more favorable terms than the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community and the IMF. Beijing is willing to help a fellow autocracy off its knees, but the support comes with a price: stakes in Belarus’s strategic state-owned companies.
At face value, Beijing seems to be exploiting a downturn in the Belarusian economy. One could argue that China pursued similar acquisition strategies in Western Europe in the aftermath of the 2009 crisis, although China’s impact in Belarus is greater and the political implications are more significant. This version of events jives well with the view that Chinese investors are “neo-mercantilists”. But this picture is too facile.
Chinese investment comes in diverse clusters of coordinated projects. Belarus is no different. Large Chinese delegations that visited Minsk in March 2010 and September 2011 have initiated investment projects in up- and downstream industries, comprising several modes of entry. In the power sector alone, the value of investment projects carried out and planned amounts to $3 bn. Not all of that capital may be registered as FDI, since China often lends capital to Belarusian firms, who are then obliged to contract Chinese firms. Nonetheless, with Belarusian FDI averaging less than $2 bn per year, China’s investments would make a big impact even without equity investments.
China is set to make its biggest mark in power generation, and the main investments have gone into revamping four coal-fired thermal plants. Among the thermal plants is 5-Minsk, a key source of power for the nation’s capital – capacity will increase nearly fourfold to 610 MW. The air pollution this will cause for Minsk is considerable – CO2 emissions are set to quadruple. Equally controversial is China’s foray into nuclear power. It is entering a bidding process to build twenty 110-330 kWt substations to distribute electricity from the Belarusian Atomic Energy Station. The proposed site remains contested on environmental safety grounds. The Fukushima catastrophe and the ensuing nuclear debate in Western Europe this year have increased Western pressure to abandon the plan. This is why the implicit support from China is welcome news to Lukashenka.
However, China is also promoting clean energy in Belarus. According to an agreement signed last month, a new 40 MW hydropower plant is to be built at Vitsebsk by 2015. A further $500 m in investments could flow into a cascade of smaller hydro plants. On a smaller scale, China is breaking ground on wind power with a 1.5 MW farm in Grodno region. China today is the world’s top producer of wind turbines and has installed considerable capacity in its less populous western regions.
Beyond the power sector, a shining example of technology transfer is in telecoms. According to a bilateral agreement signed in September, China will help Belarus launch its first communications satellite within the next 30 months. Belarus will become the seventh country to carry out such a project with China.
Further downstream, China is engaging in several areas of manufacturing. On the one hand, China National Machinery Industry Corporation (Sinomach), China’s largest machinery producer, is keen on acquiring prized assets in the machinery industry, which form the core of Belarus’s export capacity. On the other hand, joint ventures are underway at chemical plants for sodium carbonate, nitrogen fertilizer, cellophane, and paper. China might be interested in using these industries as a platform for exports to Russia and the EU. In a sense, China is supporting dirty industry on Europe’s “periphery” – though it might help to bring in more modern, less polluting technologies.
The emergence of such diverse investment activities since 2009 underscores the coordinated nature of Chinese investment. Not surprisingly, there is talk of a new industrial park for Chinese companies. Beijing Fandian, a luxury hotel chain, has begun construction on a new branch in Minsk to be inaugurated in 2013, which will cater to Chinese businesspeople and officials. The hotel might play into Lukashenka’s explicit efforts to create a “Chinatown” in Minsk.
Indeed, some hope that Minsk may become a new center for the Overseas Chinese community. Chinabelarus.net, a Chinese-language site established in 2008, is already a popular networking tool for Overseas Chinese. The breadth and scope of Chinese engagement in Belarus could be impressive. But Beijing is likely to monitor each step of the way. The Chinese companies entering Belarus illustrate the importance of what is at stake. At least five of them have a market cap of over $500 m and are publicly listed (either directly or through their parent).
At a time when Belarus is mired in crisis, Beijing’s commitment to investing extensively with top companies is quite bold. As an emerging power, China now has sufficient capital, technology, and know-how to contribute, particularly in telecoms and clean energy. In the process, it can serve as an engine for employment, productivity gains, and technological progress, which in turn can stimulate economic growth. Large industrial projects could exert a centrifugal effect on corollary industries. In the short run, moreover, China’s vote of confidence could attract other investors to enter Belarus, allowing FDI inflows to shore up the country’s balance of payments.
But China is exporting some of its negative practices as well. It is supporting potentially hazardous projects in nuclear power, thermal power, and chemicals production. More importantly, while the West is intensifying its boycott of Minsk – most recently Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas – Beijing is helping a fellow autocracy off its knees. As President Lukashenka so aptly put it: “We will always remember that our Chinese friends stretched out a helping hand to us in times of crisis.”
Iacob Koch-Weser, contributing writer
(This is the second article of a three-part series)