Belarus neutrality, border with Russia, visa-free zones, Belarus-Poland relations – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In November the Ostrogorski Centre released the first major publication on neutrality in Belarusian foreign and national security policy.
In their articles, analysts from The Centre discussed unresolved issues in Polish-Belarusian relations, border control policies and institutions, and the authorities’ new policies on visa-free zones.
The Ostrogorski Centre commented extensively in the Belarusian and Polish media on many issues including the causes of the November protests in Pakistan, Belarus’s vote on the Crimean resolution at the UN General Assembly, and the reluctant revival of the Belarusian language in the education system.
Igar Gubarevich analyses recent encouraging trends in relations between Belarus and Poland, as well as several unresolved issues that hamper their full normalisation: local border traffic, the Pole’s card, and the divided Union of Poles in Belarus.
Poland’s conservative government has recently shown greater independence from Brussels on many policy issues. They have also visibly reduced their support for the Belarusian opposition, to the latter’s great chagrin. This has led to tacit approbation from Lukashenka’s government. However, the primary sources of conflict in the two countries’ relations remain of a purely bilateral nature.
Siarhei Bohdan argues that Belarus still struggles with the development of adequate border control agencies, as their dependence on foreign aid, as well as allegations of corruption, reveal. If Belarus succeeds in sealing off its border with Ukraine, its Russian border will be the only one to remain open.
However, despite decades of integration, the status of this border remains precarious. In mid-September, the Kremlin closed its border with Belarus for third-nation nationals without any prior notice – thus ruining Minsk’s plans of becoming a transit country.
Vadzim Smok discusses a recently introduced visa-free area in the Hrodna region on the border with Poland and Lithuania. It became the second visa-free zone in Belarus after the national park Bielaviežskaja Pušča opened up in 2015.
New analytic paper: ‘Elements of neutrality in Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy’
The Ostrogorski Centre releases the first major publication on neutrality in Belarusian foreign and national security policy. Its authors are Siarhei Bohdan and Gumer Isaev.
Belarus has moved closer towards authentic neutrality over the past decade. For a long time, Minsk’s position has been misinterpreted as opportunism with regards to Moscow and the West. Yet by the mid-2010s, signs of neutrality coalesced into a reliable element of Belarusian foreign and national security policy.
This naturally leads one to question whether neutrality is a viable option for the Belarusian state. So far, Moscow has accepted this, but other countries are refusing to take it seriously. However, this may be the only way for Belarus to survive as a state under the current circumstances.
Conference on education as a human right
On 13 December the Ostrogorski Centre organises the conference: ‘Education as a human right: modernising higher education to meet the challenges of the 21st century’ in cooperation with the newly opened Embassy Office of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Belarus.
This event will provide an opportunity to constructively discuss different approaches to the challenge of transforming education systems in a specialist round table format. It will also highlight specific solutions which could been applied successfully in other countries. The conference will include three panels:
- Panel 1. Belarus’s accession to the European Higher Education Area: challenges to entering the European educational space
- Panel 2. Business education in Belarus: enhancing market transition and economic reforms
- Panel 3. Distance education in Belarus: towards an inclusive educational environment
Comments in the media
Siarhei Bohdan discusses the causes of the November protests in Pakistan on the news portal TUT.by. According to Siarhei, the protests were caused not so much by the recently-exposed offshore companies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as by a whole range of problems in the country. Moreover, the army seems to stand behind the protests, as it opposes Sharif’s policy towards the radical groups it controls.
Ryhor Astapenia appears on the ‘Hot Comment’ programme on Belsat TV to discuss developments in Belarusian-Russian relations. Despite constant energy and trade wars, Belarus does not intent to abandon Russian integration projects completely. However, the expert argues that the two countries will gradually begin to drift further apart.
Igar Gubarevich comments on the normalisation of relations between Minsk and Warsaw for Polish radio. The dialogue between the parties is now taking place at a high level, which has not been the case for years. However, a number of bilateral issues of a political nature, as well as the position of Russia and the EU, will constrain further development of the dialogue, according to the expert.
‘Tell the Truth’ campaign refers to Siarhei Bogdan’s analytical paper: ‘Elements of neutrality in Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy’. According to campaign leader Andrej Dzmitryjeŭ, ‘Tell the Truth’ sees this study as a theoretical basis for the campaign’s foreign policy vision.
Igar Gubarevich comments on Belarus voting for the Crimean resolution at the UN General Assembly for Radio Racyja. Igar explains that Belarus has long opposed the consideration of country resolutions at the UN General Assembly and proposes to address these issues in the Human Rights Committee. Belarus used this approach in order to avoid voting against the Crimean resolution as such.
On Polish radio, Ryhor Astapenia discusses the ‘reluctant’ revival of the Belarusian language in the education system. After the Ukrainian conflict, the government realised the need to for patriotism to unite various parts of the population and strengthen the sovereignty of the country. Moreover, the Belarusian language has ceased to be the political issue that it had been for Aliaksandr Lukashenka in the 1990s.
Belsat TV publishes a video interview with Siarhei Bohdan on the model of Belarusian of neutrality. According to Siarhei, Belarus can learn from the example of Finland: first of all, Belarus needs to make clear to Moscow that it will not diverge from the path of neutrality, even in return for cheap oil and gas; second, Belarus should declare non-alignment and guarantee Russia that NATO aircraft will not fly over Belarus.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
- Ihar Pielipaś. Performance evaluation of the National Business Platform – 2015. IPM Research Centre, 2016.
- Hleb Šymanovič. Trends in the development of small and medium business in Belarus. IPM Research Centre, 2016.
- Siarhei Bohdan. Elements of neutrality in Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy. Ostrogorski Centre, 2016.
- Kaciaryna Barnukova, Alieh Mazoĺ. Indexes of efficiency of government spending. BEROC, 2016.
- Kaciaryna Barnukova, Kaciaryna Lisiankova. Effects of population ageing on the pension system in Belarus. BEROC, 2016.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by completing this form.
The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com, BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.
Trump’s election, military cooperation with the US, comments on KEF 2016 – digest of Belarusian analytics
In November Belarus analysts focused on implications of Donald Trump's election for Belarus-US relations, ways to reform Belarusian economy discussed at Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, as well as developments in human rights situation.
Dzianis Meĺjancoŭ believes that after the election of the US president Donald Trump the Belarusian-American relations will develop in the same direction while, Andrej Jahoraŭ thinks that Donald Trump may initiate a review of the entire package of sanctions previously imposed by the US.
BISS presents a regular monitoring, which explores Belarus’s foreign policy in the five key dimensions. The monthly monitoring of Belarus Security Blog argues that the agreement on US-Belarusian cooperation in the military sphere is rather a political and symbolic act.
Analysing the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum 2016 Siarhiej Čaly states that in 2011 the public was ahead of authorities, while now it's clear that the government is ahead of society.
This and more in the new edition of digest of Belarusian analytics.
US presidential elections and Belarus
There will not be radical change in US foreign policy – Dzianis Meĺjancoŭ, a senior analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) believes that after the election of the US president Donald Trump, the Belarusian-American relations will develop in the same direction as the recent two years. Belarus is far from the top list of US interests, and a process of normalisation will be gradual.
Trump winning the US presidential elections will change nothing for Belarus – Donald Trump may initiate a review of the entire package of sanctions previously imposed by the US, but there will be no automatic lifting of sanctions against Belarus. How will the US foreign policy change after the billionaire populist winning the office, considers Andrej Jahoraŭ, the Director of the Centre for European Transformation.
Belarus foreign policy index #34 (September-October 2016) – BISS presents a regular monitoring, which explores Belarus’s foreign policy in the five key dimensions. In September-October, the tension in relations with Russia was not removed that expressed in the high negative index of relationship, which was not observed for a long time. In relations with the West and the EU in particular, the experts observe a gradual positive dynamics after the parliamentary elections.
National defense and security. October 2016 – According to the monthly monitoring of Belarus Security Blog, the agreement on US-Belarusian cooperation in the military sphere is rather a political and symbolic act. The level of trust between the parties is obviously not enough for any significant practical cooperation. The goal of Minsk remains unchanged: the preservation of the existing political regime intact.
Strategic assessment: Belarus weathers economic doldrums as rapprochement with West proceeds – Grigory Ioffe considers the recent developments in Belarus under five major themes: economic decline, parliamentary elections, uneasy relations with Russia; rapprochement with the West; and domestic “liberalisation.” The fifth trend clearly accompanies Belarus’s warming relations with the West, and is seemingly dependent upon it.
Civil society and human rights
Belarus civil society is trying to find a comfort zone – journalist Paŭliuk Bykoŭski notes that the last presidential (2015) and parliamentary (2016) elections show that for the first time CSOs were not involved in the mobilisation campaign or boycott. The recent trend is that many pro-democracy organisations distance themselves from politics. For an external observer, the situation in the Belarusian civil society looks frozen for decades.
Human rights situation in Belarus: October 2016 – According to the monthly monitoring of the Human Rights Centre Viasna, October was not marked by any significant changes that could contribute to qualitative changes in the human rights situation. Namely, Viasna welcomes the very fact of the adoption of a National interagency action plan on human rights but notes that the country’s human rights community was not properly invited to discuss it.
Human rights activity: unforeseen traps – Liudmila Hraznova, human rights activist talks about a visible differentiation of the Belarusian human rights community. There are two approaches: a tougher one based on western standards, and a more moderate – from the point of view of internal situation of a post-totalitarian state of the country. These two approaches have the same importance, according to Hraznova.
Kastryčnicki Economic Forum 2016
Trends in the development of small and medium business in Belarus. Small and medium businesses are not able to solve the problem of unemployment which is caused by restructuring of state-owned enterprises Read more
Proven ways do not work and will not work. It is time to "turn on the brain." TUT.by economic observer, Aliaksandr Abuchovič analysing the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum, KEF 2016 notes that in contrast to previous years, when foreign mentors strongly pushed Belarus for reforms, this year representatives of almost all international organisations urged not to hurry and stressed that each country has its own path of reforms.
Society should know their interests and formulate a request for reforms. In a regular TUT.by program Economy in Simple Words economist Siarhiej Čaly sums up the results of Kastryčnicky Ekanamičny Forum, KEF 2016, held on November 3-4 in Minsk. In 2011 it was obvious that the public was ahead of authorities, but now it's clear that the government is ahead of society – this is the key finding of KEF-2016 from Siarhiej Čaly.
Trends in the development of small and medium business in Belarus. The dynamics of macroeconomic indicators of small and medium businesses in recent years shows the reduction of its role in the economy of Belarus. This is largely predetermined by falling incomes, which indicate the focus of small and medium businesses on the demand of households. Most companies focus on saving their business and optimising costs, including cuts on employees.
Elements of neutrality in Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy. The study identifies the main elements and manifestations of neutrality in the Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy Read more
These trends prove that small and medium businesses are not able to solve the problem of unemployment during the crisis which is caused by restructuring of state-owned enterprises. Therefore, the government should first create the environment conducive to the development of the private sector.
Elements of neutrality in Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy. This study examines the three following questions. Firstly, the authors examine the origins and development of the Belarusian neutrality. Secondly, the study identifies the main elements and manifestations of neutrality in the Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy.
At the same time, the authors compared this model of neutrality with other, especially the Finnish one (after WWII) as far as its context and certain conceptual traits are concerned. Third, the study assesses the importance of neutrality for the consolidation of the Belarusian statehood, as well as the prospects and problems of its realisation.
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.