Belarus’s next five years: stability above all
On 13 September the Centre for New Ideas published a pilot Index of the Future covering Belarus’s next five years. According to the index’s authors, Belarus can expect a stagnant economy and decreasing research potential. On the other hand, minorities’ rights may improve and the national identity strengthen.
The Centre for New Ideas surveyed 26 analysts and adopted 20 different indicators to describe Belarus’s near future. The two authors, Ryhor Astapenia and Andrei Kazakevich, interpreted qualitative indicators in the context of ongoing trends in Belarus’s development. Overall, they suggest that Belarus should avoid either significant progress or strong deterioration. They conclude that the notorious notion of Belarusian “stability” will continue to dominate economic, socio-demographic, educational and public administration spheres.
As Astapenia explained to Belarus Digest, the Centre for New Ideas launched the project because “many people see Belarus’s future as too abstract or made by one person [the president], while actually it is shaped by an elaborate tangle of long-term trends.”
A stagnant economy and rising debt
The Centre for New Ideas predicts slow economic growth of 1.5% – 3% per year, which in practice means stagnation. The average salary will probably rise from its 2017 level of $422 to at least $500 by 2022, with the top level suggested at $700. This means that Belarus might realise its nationwide struggle for “five hundred dollars to all.” At the same time, Belarusian external debt will likely grow due to increased external debt payments, making the Belarusian economy less stable.
A substantial dependence on the Russian market might remain among the major threats for the Belarusian economy, raising the possibility of trade wars and exposure to Russia’s increasing susceptibility to economic crises. Belarusian dependence on the Russian market may only slightly decrease, falling from 44% of exports in 2017 to 35-40 % in 2018-2022. The index foresees the number of countries receiving more than 5% of Belarusian exports growing by between three and five countries. In this way, the long-proclaimed diversification strategy of the Belarusian government might achieve partial success.
Longer life expectancy, yet fewer babies
While the life expectancy of Belarusians born after 2017 might increase by approximately 10 years, their demographic load should rise as well. The experts predict a slow decrease of the Belarusian population from 9.5 million in 2017 to 9.25-9.4 million in 2022. Accordingly, Belarusians born today will most probably have to work longer in comparison with their parents to support the over-burdened pension system.
As for social equality, currently, Belarusians practically equal Scandinavian nations in terms of income distribution, evaluated by the Gini coefficient. According to the experts, the disproportion between the wealthy and the poor in Belarus will most probably stay the same in the next five years.
Belarus’s standing in gender equality remains comparable to that of many Western European nations, as Belarus ranks 26th in the world’s gender equality rating (evaluated by the Global Gender Gap Index). Furthermore, the Global Gender Gap Index for Belarus might even improve over the next five years.
Though various Belarusian minority groups (including the disabled, sexual, religious and other minorities) currently face systematic obstacles, they might expect positive changes. The experts predict a slight improvement of minorities’ rights on the institutional level, though their dissociation may continue
Decreasing education and research expenses
Belarus’s education and research expenses will most probably stay at the present low level. Currently, Belarus spends only 0.5% of its GDP on research and development. In comparison, European states such as Norway or the Netherlands spend about 2% of their GDP on R&D. Nevertheless, the experts predict almost the same level of R&D expenditure in Belarus. As for the national education expenses, currently, Belarus spends on education almost as much as Germany, although the experts foresee a decrease in the coming years.
The index expects more Belarusian universities to enter the top 500 best universities in the QS World University Rankings. At present only the Belarusian State University makes the QS World University Rankings, where it occupies the 334th place. The experts expect the inclusion of additional two or three Belarusian universities in these rankings within the next five years. At the same time, despite the predicted success of Belarusian universities, the number of foreign students should only minimally increase. Apparently, Belarus has already fully employed its marketing potential to attract foreign students.
The authors see the number of patent applications remaining the same or slightly decreasing in the next few years. A slow decline of patent applications represents a worrying trend for contemporary Belarusian science. While in 2008 Belarusian scientists submitted 1500 patents a year, this number dropped three-and-a-half times over the subsequent decade. At present Belarusians submit approximately 400 patent applications annually and this number might fail to improve within the next five years.
No victory over corruption and passive civil society
The national battle against corruption will most probably fail to end up in a decisive victory. Though Belarus fares better in international corruption ratings than Russia and Ukraine, the experts expect the country to fail to achieve any radical progress fighting corruption. Belarus’s international corruption standing should still lag behind the majority of Western nations.
The development of Belarusian “e-government” awaits a limited progress. Though internationally Belarus ranks well according to e-government services available online and its telecommunications infrastructure, the citizens’ ability to operate e-government fails to keep pace due to governmental leniency. Hence, Belarus occupies an only 39th place in the global e-government index without significant prospects of rising higher in the near future.
The Belarusian national identity should strengthen slightly, and the conditions for civil society development might also improve marginally. Currently, the Belarusian non-profit sector remains in a rather complex condition due to the long-standing authoritarian regime, which hinders any progress in civil society development. Belarusian civil society will most probably remain conserved in the present state of passiveness.
In conclusion, the index for the future of Belarus attempts to evaluate Belarus’s near future in accordance with long-term trends and a range of qualitative indicators. Assuming that the Belarusian regime persists, the index foresees few major changes. The Centre for New Ideas predicts that Belarus awaits moderate economic growth, rising external debt, stagnant demographics, slightly reduced R&D expenses, and only slow progress for civil society.
State-controlled think tanks in Belarus – who are they?
In contrast to the few independent Belarusian thinks tanks, the state-controlled analytical research centres in Belarus benefit from a range of privileges. Benefits include the state’s institutional support and funding as well as lawful opportunities to engage with business organisations. Belarus Digest identifies the key Belarusian state-owned think tanks in the fields of international relations, economics, sociology and state security.
Many of Belarus’s state-owned think tanks exist for the government’s use only. Governmental bodies such as the Council of Ministers frequently set the research objectives of these analytical centres for the years to come. The major problems faced by state-owned thinks-tanks include bureaucratisation, a lack of funding, and the decreasing capacities of their researchers.
Think-tanks advising on foreign relations
Several notable state think-tanks in the field of foreign relations operate in Belarus. The Information and Analytical Centre under the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus (the IAC) provides regular analytical support to the president and his administration on foreign policy issues and reports trends in the foreign media. Since 2014 a lawyer, Alexei Derbin, has headed the IAC and the agency works closely with leading think-tanks in Russia and China in the field of foreign relations.
The Centre for International Studies (CENTIS) operates as a joint initiative of the Belarusian State University and the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The major focus of CENTIS’s research agenda remains Belarusian foreign policy in the context of global and regional processes. CENTIS also publishes its online analytical journal called “Expertise”.
Think-tanks planning economic strategies
The Institute of Economics of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB) remains the oldest and the most influential Belarusian economic think tank, functioning since 1931. At present, the institute employs approximately 150 people. It provides scientific support for governmental bodies over the implementation of different socio-economic policies. In 2017, the institute published a key four-part document titled “The Strategy of the Economic Development of Belarus: Challenges, Instruments, and Perspectives”. Valery Belski, a former advisor to the Eurasian Economic Commission, has headed the institute since 2016.
The Centre for System Analysis and Strategic Research at the Academy of Sciences of Belarus also conducts socio-economic research. In 2017, the centre published 34 scientific articles, 50 theses, 5 monographs, and 5 textbooks. The centre also advises on the problems of economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia.
The Belarusian-Chinese Analytical Development Centre (BCADC) represents an example of a bilateral inter-state think-tank. The BCADC develops practical recommendations on the improvement of export-import relations and increasing bilateral Belarusian-Chinese investments. The BCADC advises governmental bodies in both Belarus and China directly.
Think-tanks conducting sociological research
The Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus stands out as the leading Belarusian state think-tank in the field of sociology. At present, the institute employs 67 people and comprises four centres and five departments. The wide scope of the institute’s activities includes regular monitoring of the socio-economic and political situation in Belarus, studying the electoral preferences of Belarusians during election campaigns, and carrying out marketing research. Currently, the institute supervises about 50 research projects. As for research publications, the Institute of Sociology publishes about 100 scientific articles, theses and reports annually.
The Centre for Political and Social Studies of the Belarusian State University conducts sociological research for Belarusian commercial organisations and governmental bodies as well as for international organisations operating in Belarus. So far, the centre has conducted about 150 research projects. David Rotman, a prominent Belarusian sociologist, has served as the head of the centre since 1997. The European Commission, UNICEF and UNO list among the centre’s clients.
Thinks-tanks working on security problems
The Scientific Research Institute of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus remains the key Belarusian state security think-tank. The institute prepares solutions to problems of Belarusian military security and the operation of the Belarusian armed forces. The institute actively collaborates with the defence ministry of the Russian Federation in the field of the military security of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Apart from that, the institute cooperates with similar military institutions in Eastern Europe and with those of the Pan-Eurasian Collective Security Treaty Organization (mostly composed of the CIS states).
The Centre for Foreign Policy and Security Study unites Belarusian researchers working in the state universities. The Centre works on problems related to European security. So far, the Centre has arranged several conferences on international security (including the place of NATO) in Minsk with the participation of European diplomats and experts.
Influential, yet bureaucratic
According to Piotr Piatrouski, a research fellow at the Insitute of Philosophy of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences, unlike independent think-tanks, the Belarusian state analytical research centres exude substantial influence on the state’s policies. Since they receive concrete research tasks from the government, they work on specific point-to-point proposals and solutions. The National Centre for Legislation and Legal Research then transforms their solutions into draft legislative acts, such as laws and decrees. Apart from that, such state research centres as the Institute for Philosophy and the Institute of History, conduct various sorts of expertise at the request of the Belarusian Internal Ministry.
As the Belarusian government remains the major employer of these state-owned research centres, a significant amount of their research is exclusively for government use and unavailable to the public. At the same time, as Piatrouski mentions, the state think tanks freely cooperate with business organisations and participate in international research programmes. Moreover, these analytical centres publish parts of their research in open sources, both nationally and internationally. However, the scope of their international publications largely stays within the Russian-speaking academic space due to the lack of the English-language publications.
According to Piatrouski, despite their governmental backing, Belarusian state research centres face several problems. First, Belarus still spends an insufficient amount of GDP on research and development programmes. While Russia assigned 1.1 % of its GDP on R&D in 2016, Belarus assigned merely 0.5% of its GDP on R&D. Second, excessive bureaucratisation combined with academic formalism negatively affects the performance of the state’s think-tanks. Third, the education level of incoming researchers lags behind their predecessors, partly attributed to the general decline in education levels in Belarus.
To sum up, the Belarusian state research centres remain rather self-contained despite their existing cooperation networks. In part, this state of affairs results from the authoritarian character of the Belarusian regime and the secret nature of many research programs.