Authorities Target Recipients of Foreign Aid – Politics and Civil Society Digest
Belarusian authorities increasingly target those who receive financial support from international and foreign donors. Years ago they cut off virtually all sources of domestic financial support of civil society. Now they have stepped up their efforts to punish those who manage to find external funding and fail to comply with the draconian domestic regulation of foreign aid. Even after the arrest of Ales Byaliatski on tax fraud charges, representatives of donors fail to take the necessary measures not to worsen the risks which Belarusian activists have to deal with.
Investigations on relationships with foreign funds. On 22 September, Aliaksandr Silkou, Mahiliou regional coordinator of the movement “For Freedom”, was interrogated by a local customs department over smuggling charges. According to the activist, Brest police detained a Polish citizen Mr. Jaskowicki and seized a grant application with Mr. Silkou’s name on it as the stated applicant. On 22 September, Head of Hrodna branch of Belarusian Popular Front Vadzim Saranchukou was interrogated by the KGB about the relationship he has with foreign funds. Officials also mentioned a Polish citizen detained at the border who was carrying financial information, but with a different name.
Arrests for leaflets about silent protests. On 19 September, District Court in Homel sentenced activists Dmitry Shevchenko and Dmitry Karashkov to administrative detention respectively to 15 days and 3 days (violation of procedures for organization and conduct of mass events). The activists were arrested for distribution of information materials for the planned 21 September, actions of silent protest. Immediately after the trial, Shevchenko went on hunger strike.
Arrests for white-red-white flags. On 19 September, Tsentralny District Court in Minsk sentenced Uladzimer Yaromenak and Nasta Palazhanka respectively to 12 and 11 days of administrative arrest for alleged violating Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of procedures for organization and conduct of mass events). The activists were detained in downtown Minsk as they were trying to hang out white-red-white flags of the pre-Lukashenka Belarus. This way they tried to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the white-red-white flag as the state symbols back in 1991.
Arrest and fine for leaflets about People Assembly. On 21 September, Homel District Court sentenced two local activists Andrei Tsianiuta (10 days of arrest) and Vasil Takarenka (Br 350,000 fine or $50) for distributing leaflets the day before. Leaflets were devoted to the upcoming People Assembly on 8 October.
Activist arrested right at police department. On 21 September, a United Civic Party activist Olga Paderina has been sentenced to 10 days’ administrative arrest by the court of Leninski district of Minsk under Article 21.14 of the Administrative Code (violation of municipal improvement and maintenance rules in centers of population). Olga Paderina was detained on 18 September late at night for pasting up stickers for the “Revolution through social networks” campaign.
Homel activist sentenced to 15 days of arrest. On 22 September, Homel Tsentralny District Court sentenced local opposition activist Kanstantsin Zhukouski to 15 days of administrative arrest for alleged usage of foul language and resisting arrest. Zhukouski was detained in downtown Homel before silent protests, and was reportedly beaten and later taken to the hospital.
Uladzimir Kobets: How I was recruited by KGB. Uladzimir Kobets, Andrei Sannikov’s campaign chief, has told how he had been forced to sign a collaboration agreement at the KGB.
Silent protestson 21 September. After a two-month break, the organizers of silent protests called again people to the streets. On 21 September, participants should have been just walking down along the main avenues/streets of their cities. A small number of people were noticed at the action: dozens of regions, up to 300 people in Minsk. Despite the presence of police there were no detentions.
Forum of cyclists in Hrodna. On 17-18 September, the first Forum of cyclists was held in Hrodna. The Forum aimed at gathering of cyclists to fight for the development of a cycling movement. There were 12 participants, representatives of regional centers of Belarus.
Independent Student Conference. On 18 September, Minsk hosted the conference "Higher Education in Belarus through the eyes of students". The organizer is "Center for Development of student initiatives". The conference adopted a resolution in which the participants, noting the absence in the public sphere students’ position in relation to higher education in Belarus, presented their vision to improve its elements.
Public Advisory Council dismissed. On 23 September, Head of Presidential Administration Vladimir Makey dismissed the Public Advisory Council due to its members desire not to be accused of collaboration with the authorities. Makey notes that “the personal experience and constructivism of former Council’s members could be useful in the future in the context of the great dialog, announced by the government”.
Group of reaction. National platform of Civil Society Forum of EaP is establishing a "Group of reaction" empowered to conduct dialogue and negotiation with different actors of the political process. Ulad Velichko (EuroBelarus), Ales Belyatsky (Viasna), Vladimir Mackievich (AHT/CSI) and Sergei Mackievich (the NGO Assembly) are nominated to the Group. The final decision on the composition and functions of the Group should be taken at the Conference of the National Platform in October.
Tournament of Zabej. On September 24, the 2nd tournament of community Zabejwill bring together more than 30 teams from various amateur football championships and towns in Belarus. Conducting the mass game Zabej demonstrates to young people possibility of self-organizing and contributes to the development of initiatives at the grassroots level.
Week of Informal Education. On 24 September-2 October, the 6th Week of Informal Education will be held in Belarus. This year the main topic of the Week is "Informal education and regional development". Seminars, trainings, round tables, master classes will be held in Grodno, Gomel, Mogilev, Brest, as well as in Smalyavichi, Hodosy, Krychau, Barysau, Zhodzina, Svetlahorsk, Shchuchin, Maladechna.
Republican Social Forum. On 24-25 October, the Republican Social Forum will be held in Homel. The purpose of the Forum is a demonstration, development and promotion of mechanisms and practices of social partnership between public authorities, NGOs and business for sustainable social development. Among the organizers there are Homel regional executive committee, International Education Center (IBB), NGO ACT, etc.
Belarusian House in Warsaw. In Warsaw, Belarusian political emigrants establish an organizationthat aims to unite local Belarusians through counseling, organization of joint events, cultural activities and lobbying of the Belarusian minority in Polish society. One of the Belarusian House founders is a member of movement "For Freedom" Ales Zarembyuk.
Stable dynamics of registration. During the eight months of this year the Ministry of Justice has registered 55 NGOs, 11 foundations, one trade union and one association. Compared to the previous five years, the dynamics of registration has not changed significantly.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. Politics & Civil Society Digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. The digests often go beyond the hot stories already available in other English-language media.
Friends in China and Iran – Belarus in Western Press Digest
As the global economy teeters on the brink of breakdown, Belarus’ own financial woes still get a mention in Western financial news. In political terms, suspected links between Belarusian business and the Iranian nuclear programme, as well as the beginning of the Minsk bomb attack trial, have gained some attention over the last month.
Nuclear Allies in Iran. Reuters reported on allegations that Belarus is helping Iran to skirt the UN sanctions against it expanding its nuclear programme. The exclusive report states that Western diplomats have intimated that Belarus is working as middlemen to enable Iran to purchase Russian technology to develop their nuclear capacity. One specific Belarusian businessman is implicated. If the allegations are true, Belarus would join China, North Korea, Russia and the UAE among others in illegally supporting Iranian nuclear missile procurement and manufacture.
Economic crisis endures, and Belarus has gained a fair amount of Western business press coverage for its troubles. The renewed devaluation of the rouble, Belarus’ world-record-setting borrowing, as well as the cosying up of Belarus and China followed the Chinese bail-out are all stories.
Financial advice from next door. On 19 September, Bloomberg reported on a recommendation from Moscow-based former IMF economist Ivan Tchakarov that Belarus raise interest rates yet further to address its balance of payments crisis. Tchakarov also told the agency that the Chinese loan, announced early in the month, is only a short-term solution, reiterating the consensus view that structural economic change is needed. The Belarusian national bank offered Bloomberg journalists no comment on the suggestion. A brief piece in The Scotsman claims that the opposition and nationalist movements in Belarus have been emboldened by the economic crisis.
Russian buy-up? The Independent ran a long feature on leading Russian fertilizer company Uralkali, which hopes to soon begin trading on the UK stock exchange. Purchase of the Belarusian potash giant Belaruskali is one of the company’s “highest priorities” as it looks ahead. However, Uralkali chief executive acknowledges that the Belarusian government is unlikely to sell the state-owned company in the near-future.
Bomb trial. There has been very scant coverage of the trial of the alleged perpetrators of the Minsk metro bombing. The few articles from Reuters, the BBC and Euronews focus on Vladislav Kovalyov’s request to withdraw evidence which he claims he gave under pressure. The fact that both suspects could face the death penalty if convicted is also highlighted.
Belarus outperforms the UK. And finally, Belarus might be irked when it sees itself in this British tabloid story. The Daily Mirror sought to highlight the poor performance of the UK on a recent child healthcare index with the shock-headline that Belarus was ranked nine places better.