Belarus-Russia conflict, prospect for 2019 elections, end of recession – digest of Belarus analytics
BISS: relations with Russia have deteriorated to a minimum from early 2011. Arciom Šrajbman in his article notes that even if Minsk and Moscow are able to resolve their current dispute, the standoff will go down in history.
Reformation project presents a “dream government of reforms” for Belarus. Zautra.by explains why Belarusian public officials are unable to implement reforms. Poll: only 15% of Belarusian students feel positive effects of the Bologna process.
EBRD: Belarus will come out of recession in 2017. Belarus in Focus forecasts that economic recovery may be postponed till 2018. Belarus government reportedly adopts a series of progressive steps by 2020.
This and more in the new edition of digest of Belarus analytics.
The Far-Reaching Consequences of Belarus’s Conflict with Russia – Arciom Šrajbman in his article for Carnegie Moscow Centre, notes that even if Minsk and Moscow are able to resolve their current dispute, the standoff will go down in history, at least in Belarus. After Belarus’s declaration of independence and the creation of its state infrastructure this conflict will be one of the most important stages in the country’s movement away from Russia.
Russia Introduces a Border Zone With Belarus – Jaŭhien Prejherman in his article for Jamestown Foundation, analyses the media reaction to the establishment of the border between Russia and Belarus. The expert recommends that particularly important for observers to prevent their analysis from being driven by hot media headlines and unprofessional and poorly sourced blogging, which tries to sell such headlines as serious research.
Are Moscow and the West Swapping Positions on Belarus? – Paul Goble, The Jamestown Foundation, notes that now there are intriguing indications that Russia and the West are progressively swapping their positions on Belarus, with Moscow viewing its Western neighbour as a threat and the West increasingly considering Belarus a possible ally against Russia.
Stanislav Belkovsky: In Free Elections in Russia, Lukashenka Would Win Putin – In his interview with TUT.by, Stanislav Belkovsky, Russian political scientist, discusses the Russian president's attitude to Lukashenka and Belarus, why Russia needs conflict in Ukraine and the operation in Syria. Belkovsky visits Belarus at the invitation of Nobel laureate, Svetlana Aleksievich for the 2nd meeting of her Intellectual Club.
Belarus Foreign Policy Index #35. November-December 2016 – BISS presents its regular monitoring, in which Belarus’s foreign policy is explored in five dimensions. Namely, at the end of 2016 relations with Russia have deteriorated to an absolute minimum since the entire period of analysis (from early 2011). At the same time, a long-term trend to expand the agenda in relations with the EU has continued.
Belarus-2019: Return to Repression Or Partnership of Government and Opposition? – Thinktanks.by analyses the recent debate organised by Belarus Security Blog, where experts tried to predict the development of domestic and foreign policy situation for Belarus. One of the findings is that Russia will not return to the same level of support for the Belarusian authorities, so they will come weakened to the next presidential election.
Reformation website presents “dream government” for reforms in Belarus. Among the criteria are professionalism, representation of the current government and the opposition and, gender balance. So, the Prime Minister is Kyril Rudy, former Assistant to the president; Minister of Economy is Aliaksandr Čubryk, IPM Research Institute, Minister of Labour is Tacciana Karatkievič, Havary Praŭdu campaign, Ombudsman is human rights activist Aliena Tankačova.
Why officials cannot conduct reforms. Zautra.by website believes that one of the Belarusian problems’ reasons is the inefficiency of the leading elite. In particular, almost all political Belarusian elite got higher education and academic degrees in Belarus or Russia, which leads to a shortage of fresh ideas, misunderstanding of modern trends, and preservation in a narrow professional world.
Investments fell below the threshold of economic security. Reducing the share of investment in relation to GDP for three consecutive years is observed in Belarus. Their volume dropped to its lowest level since 2003. The Government is preparing a special meeting on this topic and the related report to the president.
The anatomy of Belarusian joint stock companies. This work is an attempt to find answers to a number of undiscovered issues of joint stock companies activity in Belarus. Read more
How To Treat The Arrests of Businessmen – Vitali Volyanyuk, Probusiness.by, given the recent arrests of 11 Belarusian businessmen and the criminal case of investor Aliaksandr Muraŭjoŭ, analyses, how to treat this situation. The author believes that in the current paradigm, a normal psychological climate for the business in the country can be created only from scratch.
In 2017, Belarus will come out of recession. According to the EBRD Chief Economist Sergei Guriev, Belarus will come out of recession with GDP growth by 1% in 2017. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) considers that Belarus should conduct structural reforms to accelerate economic growth, in particular, reforms in the public sector, pension system, etc.
Belarus in Focus: Economic growth in Belarus may be delayed until 2018. The Belarusian economy has been in recession for two consecutive years. Amid anticipated decline in retail trade, construction and unresolved dispute over energy supplies from Russia, economic recession is likely to persist in 2017 and the economic recovery may be postponed until 2018, forecast Belarus in Focus experts.
Government announces a series of progressive innovations until 2020. The Government of Belarus has approved a package of measures to implement the Program of socio-economic development of Belarus for 2016-2020. Among 380 events there are quite revolutionary, in particular, the improvement of the monetary and foreign exchange policy, the decriminalisation of economic risks, etc.
Education and civil society
Poll: Only 15% of Belarusian Students "Feel" the Bologna Process – Only 11% of the students are familiar with the contents of the Roadmap of the Belarusian higher education reform by 2018; 48% say that their students' rights were violated. These data were obtained in a survey on the assessment of the Education Ministry from the viewpoint of the students held in December 2016 – January 2017 by Baltic Internet Policy Initiative and commissioned by the Public Bologna Committee.
Belarus Grows Up. Civil Rise Above Itself – Vadzim Mažejka, Belarusian Journal, examines the latest trends in the Belarusian civil society. Thus, Belarusians start realising that no one but themselves can finance social benefit initiatives, comprehend the Belarusian society and discuss upcoming reforms. It's called growing up. 2017 for the Belarusian society is the year to rise above itself.
Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area. The paper analyses the main challenges to implementation of the Roadmap in Belarus and provides recommendation which could help to do it on time. Read more
Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area. In 2015 Belarus joined the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and committed to putting a Roadmap for higher education reform into effect by 2018. The implementation of the Roadmap is running behind schedule, which poses a threat to fulfilment of Belarus' obligations by the due date. The paper ‘Challenges To Belarus Joining The European Higher Education Area’ released by the Ostrogorski Centre analyses the main challenges to implementation of the Roadmap in Belarus; it also provides recommendation which could help to do it on time and benefit a wider range of stakeholders.
The anatomy of Belarusian joint stock companies. We do not know how effective the Belarusian enterprises are, what share of the economy belongs to the state, how state-owned enterprises differ from private ones, how labour, capital and materials are distributed between the companies, and how emergence, evolution and exit of enterprises from the market impacts the economy. This work is an attempt to find answers to these questions by analysing the activities of Belarusian joint stock companies.
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.
Belarus struggles to preserve its historical heritage
When travelling to Hrodna at the end of January, a group of tourists ended up saving a unique historical museum: the Yanush Parulis Museum in Hrodna was only able to survive financially thanks to local activism and a media campaign.
Whereas neighbouring Poland announces a 9.5 per cent budget increase on culture, Belarus is failing to implement its only state-funded project for national heritage preservation. Instead of cooperating with civil society to preserve important cultural sites, the government prefers to restrict NGO activities and spends money on safety and order.
Conservation of heritage
Belarus placed the issue of preservation of cultural heritage on its policy agenda only recently: the first document directly addressing cultural heritage protection appeared only in 2006. In contrast, in Lithuania heritage preservation laws date back to 1992, while in Austria such legislation goes back as far as 200 years. Meanwhile, the Belarusian government only introduced its first modest heritage project in 2011.
International programmes are also pushing Belarus to protect its cultural heritage. In 2015, the Belarusian town of Mstislau became a member of the COMUS project (Community-led Urban Strategies in Historical Towns), which aims to foster active civic participation in heritage preservation. Likewise, UNESCO has designated four world heritage sites in Belarus. Broadening the list of historical places would put more sites under protection.
However, the Belarusian government has so far failed to create a comprehensive project for heritage preservation. Over the past years, Belarus has begun to commercialise heritage conservation in such famous tourist sites as Mir Castle. Nevertheless, castles in Kreva and Lubcha survive due to the voluntary work of historians and locals. By liberalising the visa regime, Belarus has a greater chance of benefiting from tourist money, but the government should first focus on effectively preserving heritage sites which could be of interest to tourists.
Although Belarusian historical sites often attract tourists, the government has chosen to focus exclusively on castles: in 2011, money was allocated to a programme called ‘Castles of Belarus’ for 2012 to 2018. The programme aims to repair and restore 38 historical sites in Belarus. However, while local authorities choose to repair some castles, they also demolish many other historical buildings, as recently happened with two 19th century military buildings in Minsk.
‘Castles of Belarus’ has not received a large enough budget for proper implementation, and only a few castles have benefited from the programme so far. Castles in Kosava, Ružany, and Lida were the first to be renovated, while restoration of many other historical sites, such as Hrodna or Sviack castles, has yet to start. Already in 2015, deputy minister of culture, Aliaksandr Jacko, stated that the project was under-funded and could not go on with the current amount of money.
Due to the economic crisis, the Belarusian authorities are not prioritising the preservation of historical heritage. In contrast to the budget for public order and safety, the budget for culture and media has remained very low over the past seven years. In comparison, at the end of 2016 the Polish authorities announced an increase in the culture budget of 9.5 per cent of the GDP. Moreover, the Belarusian authorities put culture, media, and sports all in the same bracket.
Historians have expressed concern about the 'Castles of Belarus' programme. For example, Stsiapan Sturejka, a famous anthropologist, told Tvoj Styl that the state is working on restorations without consulting historians or experts. According to Anton Astapovich, the chairman of the Belarusian Voluntary Society for Protection of Historical Monuments and Culture, there is a huge difference between renovation and restoration; the authorities often do not take this into account.
While in most neighbouring countries consultation with experts and discussion with locals prior to restoration is a requirement, in Belarus the authorities prefer to skip this crucial step. According to Astapovich, only those sites which the authorities consider to be historically valuable are safe from demolition. Local authorities are prone to decide whether particular sites should disappear without historians' input. The state should discuss each restoration project with experts and citizens, as in Poland.
Heritage protection: the business of society?
Thus far, conservation of historical and cultural heritage in Belarus has mostly been the business of enthusiasts. In 2016, the streets of Minsk received historical names. Shortly after, historians in Hrodna initiated a similar project, which started on 15 February. Due to the initiatives of local activists, some historical sites continue to function.
The Yanush Parulis Museum in Hrodna was in jeopardy, as the owner could no longer afford to pay the rent. However, it was able to survive into 2017 thanks to the media and a campaign organised by locals. Media coverage allowed the owner to attract tourists, who are now visiting the museum more and more.
Some initiatives aim to solve a legislative deficiency which significantly complicates the monitoring of the renovation of historical objects. The Belarusian Voluntary Society for Protection of Historical Monuments and Culture continuously fights against demolishment of historical buildings. Several weeks ago, they sent an appeal to the parliament with a proposal to enhance legislation on renovation of historical sites.
International projects also aim to support heritage protection, although the scope of such projects is small. The Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation organises an annual competition for projects aimed at improving heritage sites. At the end of each year, however, the fund is only able to support a few heritage-related projects.
Belarusian heritage as a priority
Conservation of historical heritage should not only be left to volunteers. The government finances heritage protection poorly. Civil society does not possess the resources to conduct such projects without governmental support. Additionally, NGO initiatives are constrained by legislation requiring registration of international funds. Consequently, many historical sites are left to citizens or volunteer groups.
The Belarusian government itself is does little to protect heritage, but it is not willing to allow civil society to be part of the solution. Authorities try to save money on heritage preservation, limiting the budget only to 0.9 per cent of GDP. At the same time, they ignore suggestions to organise public hearings or expert consultations about renovations or demolition.
Grassroots initiatives over the last year demonstrate the ability on behalf of civil society to achieve goals. By opening up space for conservation initiatives, the state delegates more functions to civil society, thus empowering citizens. Instead of dividing responsibility for culture heritage, civil society and the government could unite forces to create an effective heritage conservation programme.