Belarus’s international presence, official ideology, Eurobonds, and Geely cars – Belarus state press digest
Belarus hopes to expand its international presence when it presides over the Central European Initiative and hosts the summer session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly this summer.
In an Independence Day speech on 3 July, Lukashenka alluded to prominent cultural figures and mediaeval Belarusian polities as important elements of Belarusian statehood. This marks a shift from the usual Soviet-inspired nation-building discourse.
The government is issuing Eurobonds for $1bn and plans to launch assembling production of Chinese Geely cars in the second half of 2017.
This and more in the new edition of Belarus state press digest.
Foreign policy activity
The Central European Initiative meets in Minsk, as Belarus holds the organisation’s presidency this year, according to the Minsk Times. At present, the organisation comprises 18 countries and aims to prevent further dividing lines from growing in Europe. In Minsk, the CEI Foreign Ministers discussed how to adapt the organisation to the new cross-boundary challenges in the region. According to Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makiej: ‘There is no room for selective dialogue, where those ‘not European enough’ are ignored or set aside. There can be no “one-size-fits-all” political integration and there can be no universal recipe for instant democracy’.
The most sensible European politicians understand this. For example, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto noted that: ‘We advocate a fair approach from the EU towards Belarus and support the removal of sanctions, simplification of the visa regime between Belarus and the EU, and the promotion of Belarus in negotiations regarding membership to the WTO’.
The summer session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly opens in Minsk on 5 July. Belarus Segodnia interviewed Permanent Representative of Belarus to the OSCE Aliena Kupčyna. This session was the first OSCE event of its size in Belarus. According to the article, the choice of Belarus as a venue for the annual session is very appropriate, given the current crisis of European security. Belarus is increasingly perceived as an island of stability: it has no military or protracted conflicts on its territory and makes a significant contribution to the fight against organised crime, illegal migration, and human trafficking.
However, dividing lines in the region continue to grow, despite OSCE declarations. In order to prevent them, countries in the region must first of all scale down confrontation and work to increase mutual trust in the military sphere. Secondly, they should overcome the growing economic fragmentation in the OSCE area and develop economic interconnectedness. Thirdly, the OSCE should help participant states to fulfil their obligations to the organisation, albeit without coercion.
Nationalising rhetoric and IT development enter official ideology. Belarus Segodnia published a transcript of Alexander Lukashenka’s Independence Day speech on 3 July. Although such speeches usually feature overly militaristic rhetoric, this time the Belarusian leader alluded to prominent cultural figures in Belarusian history. The authorities seem to be incorporating more and more nationalising elements in official ideology.
Lukashenka mentioned ‘those luminaries and ascetics who created Belarusian statehood, including Euphrosyne of Polatsk, Kiryla Turaŭski, Francysk Skaryna, and Symon Budny’. He called the Principality of Polack ‘our historic cradle’, and stated that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania provided a powerful impetus to military and urban development. Lukashenka also mentioned that both Belarus and Russia have no future if they fail to develop their respective IT sectors.
Tourism fails to grow despite the new visa-free regime. The number of foreigners who have taken advantage of the possibility to enter Belarus visa-free for five days has reached 20,000 as of this summer, writes Belarus Segodnia. Tourist companies prepared interesting programmes in anticipation of an influx of tourists, but no such surge occurred.
Experts note that the introduction of the five-day visa-free regime for citizens of 80 countries remains largely unknown abroad. Most tourists seem to come on business and limit themselves to hotel conference rooms or nightlife rather than visiting local travel agencies.
Assembly production of Chinese Geely cars to be launched soon. A Respublika correspondent visited the Geely plant to obtain details regarding the launch of car production. However, the management refused to disclose the details of their business plan or its expected profitability. Representatives of the plant would not even specify the precise dates of the plant’s official opening, saying only that it would be in the second half of 2017.
Currently, all car components for test production come from China, but after the official launch suppliers will be primarily Belarusian and Russian. The management of the plant confirmed that there are already pre-orders for the new cars, albeit so far mostly from Russia. The minimum price of a car will be around $12,000 and maximum $26,000-$27,000, depending on the model. Currently, 90% of the company’s employees come from Belarus; the rest are Chinese specialists training Belarusians.
Belarus and Russia demonstrate their innovations at the Fourth Forum of Regions in Moscow. The forum, which was held on 29-30 June, was named ‘Vectors of Integration Development of the Regions of Russia and Belarus in the Sphere of High Technologies, Innovation and the Information Society’, according to Belarus Segodnia. The forum took place at the same time as the Supreme State Council of the Union State; both Alexander Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin took part. The Forum of Regions is designed to facilitate the expansion of contacts and to function as a discussion platform.
The exhibition not only displays various achievements, it also shows the real fruits of the economic integration of the two countries. They are laying the foundation for the development of the modern smart economy of Belarus and Russia. It is impossible to be competitive on the global market alone, so the countries need to use their high intellectual potential jointly.
Belarus issues Eurobonds for $1bn. The Finance Ministry has announced details regarding the beginning of a Eurobonds roadshow in the USA and Europe, writes the Minsk Times. Depending on market conditions, Belarus plans to place two issues of Eurobonds for 5 and 10 years. The organisers are the Development Bank of Belarus, Citi, and Raiffeisen Bank International AG.
The roadshow format envisages presentational shares and meetings with potential investors and leading analysts. The event is being organised by the top management of the companies involved, prior to the placement of the bonds. Concrete terms for new issues of Belarusian Eurobonds and the volume concerned have not been announced. However, experts expect that it may amount to $1bn.
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.
Greenmap, Urban Picnic, UN human rights report, LGBTQ Support Centre – Belarus civil society digest
Greenmap Belarus wins a UN competition. 3rd Urban Picnic in Mahilioŭ gathers over 6,000 citizens. A new initiative makes Minsk as green as possible.
EESC organises 10th annual United Students of Belarus Rally. BEROC opens enrolment to the 7th Student School in Economics.
KGB drops criminal charges in the preparation for mass riots case against Young Front activists. UN Special Rapporteur presents a new report on Belarus.
The Samahod visa-free summer festival takes place in Minsk on 24-25 June. LGBTQ community centre is established in Minsk.
This and more in the new edition of the Belarus civil society digest.
Green and urban activism
Greenmap Belarus won the UN competition. The joint project of the environmental CSOs and the Ministry of Natural Resources took the first place in the competition for the UN Awards in the field of building the Information Society WSIS Prize 2017. The Greenmap Belarus project, an interactive map of environmentally friendly places and initiatives, was developed by the Environmental Solutions Centre.
Demolishing of Asmaloŭka brought for public discussion. The administration of the Central district of Minsk announced the public discussion of the Asmaloŭka area where two neighbourhoods with two-story buildings plan to be completely demolished. Civic activists have been fighting for the preservation of the area for several years; they consider it an important cultural, historical and ecological object of Minsk.
Make Minsk green again. A new initiative is attempting to make the central part of Minsk as green as possible and create a related public request on that. Instead young seedlings, the initiative suggests planting adult trees that are more adapted to urban conditions. The first goal of the campaign is to plant trees near the Minsk railway station.
Impact assessment of the Leadership program. Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) has released a report on the social effects that the educational programme Leadership in Local Communities implemented by OEEC and Pact has produced on the ground. According to the report, 49 trained community leaders managed to mobilise 4,600 locals in solving over 90 local issues.
3rd Big Urban Picnic in Mahilioŭ. On 27 May, the Centre for City Initiatives gathered more than 6,000 people on the banks of the Dniepr. The Picnic included a rich programme of contests, master classes, and presentations, accessible to all citizens of Mahilioŭ. The festival has become the third in a row, which is held by the forces of city CSOs.
City show new episodes present a new challenge for the participants to organise a budget-zero public event in the style of Vulica Brasil to master their organisational and creative skills. The activists also tell to the jury about their community projects that will be implemented on the ground. The winner of the show will go on a study tour to Brazil.
10th annual United Students of Belarus Rally. Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC) invites Belarusian youth studying in Belarus and abroad to apply for the rally, which will be held on 3-5 July in Vilnius, Lithuania. This year the USB Rally will be devoted to fostering connections between Belarus and Belarusian Diaspora around the world.
RADA invites Belarusian youth NGOs to take part in a Volunteer Festival on 11 August. The goal is the creation of a positive image of volunteering among young people, increasing the information content and visibility of youth CSOs, initiatives, and cultural and educational areas among young people.
BEROC announces the enrolment to the 7th Student School in Economics. The School will be held in Minsk in September-October 2017. Working language of the school is English. The curriculum includes intensive lectures and group discussions. Specialisation in economics is not a must for the prospective candidates. The application form should be submitted before 14 July.
Educational programme on women’s social entrepreneurship. The first in Belarus, a 15-month programme to train women from Minsk and Brest who want to create social-oriented enterprises, or have already started their own businesses. The programme is implemented by a consortium of CSOs, including ODB Brussels, Brest Fund for Regional Development etc.
Repressions against civil society
The UN Special Rapporteur urges continued scrutiny as Belarus enters new cycle of repression. On 14 June, presenting his new report to the Human Rights Council, Miklós Haraszti described the severe crackdown on peaceful protesters in February-March of 2017 as revealing the nature of oppression of human rights in Belarus. In response, official Minsk urged the HRC to abolish the mandate on the Special Rapporteur in Belarus.
KGB terminated the criminal proceedings on ‘preparation for mass riots’. The Belarusian KGB has stopped criminal cases for ‘the preparation for mass riots’ (article 293-3 of the Criminal Code) started against six members of the Young Front. At the same, 14 people detained in March in connection with ‘the patriots’ case’ are still in jail. They are suspected of ‘creating an illegal armed unit’ (article 287 of the Criminal Code).
Analytical review of detention conditions and treatment of persons convicted of involvement in peaceful protests in March 2017. Human Right Centre Viasna‘s review concludes that the peaceful demonstrators sentenced to administrative detention in Minsk were held in conditions that are contrary to the state’s obligations enshrined in the Constitution and international treaties.
Samahod, the annual visa free summer festival will take place in Minsk on 24-25 June and attract nearly 1,500 participants. Samahod /Self-Propelled supports the abolition of visa usage between the EU and Belarus. The festival will include lectures, performances, roundtable discussions, film screenings, children’s zones, and many more activities.
LGBTQ Community Support Centre was established in Minsk. The Centre supports LGBTQ people and their relatives and provides legal and psychological assistance and cultural and educational activities. The centre seeks to overcome discrimination and promote the idea of equality, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
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.