Best Belarusian think tanks, death penalty, tourism accessibility – civil society digest
Kastryčnicky Ekanamičny Forum (KEF) opens registration. Helsinki Committee and Danish Institute for Human Rights roll out the Human Rights and Business country guide for Belarus.
BRC presents results of the 2nd Think Tank Rating – BEROC ranks top. Sixth International Congress of Belarusian Studies takes place in Kaunas, 500 participants attend. Human rights groups hold a Week Against Death Penalty in Belarus. Regular BNP conference is scheduled in Minsk for late October. United Way launches a service to generate NGO registration documents. The state registered 53 new NGOs during the first six months of 2016.
This and more in the new edition of civil society digest.
Think tanks and academia
Belarusian Research Council (BRC) presents the results of the 2nd rating of think tanks. The first place went to Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center BEROC; the second – to Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) and the third – to the expert community Nashe Mnenie/ Our Opinion. The rating assesses the think tanks on three components: organisational capacity, information outreach and analytical and research activities.
Sixth International Congress of Belarusian Studies took place in Kaunas. The Congress was held on 7-9 October and gathered around 500 participants. This is the largest annual meeting of Belarusian and foreign experts, which are involved in studying Belarus. The event is organised since 2010 by independent think tanks, including Political Sphere Institute, EuroBelarus Consortium, BISS.
Cooperation of public and private sectors
KEF opens registration. Kastryčnicky Ekanamičny Forum/October Economic Forum, KEF is to be held for the fourth time on 3-4 November in Minsk and gather experts for a professional dialogue on Belarus’ sustainable development within the context of global economic development. KEF is organised by the Research Centre IPM in association with BEROC and CASE Belarus. The topic of this year is state-owned enterprises' restructuring.
Half of the places in Public Advisory Councils go to the private sector. The government of Belarus has adopted a decree #802 stimulating public advisory councils at state bodies to the true work. The number of representatives of state bodies shall be not more than a half of the total number of a council. The opinion of state bodies will be considered on a par with the position of the business community, as well as other council members.
Kastryčnicky Kirmaš. On 21 October nonprofit agency Your Tomorrow invites on the Kastryčnicky Kirmash/ The October Fair – an event where employers will be able to get acquainted with the highly educated and talented young people. Agency Your Tomorrow was created to use the potential of young Belarusians, who graduated the international educational programs.
A new beginning for human rights and business in Belarus. The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), together with the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), created an easy to use a guide on the human rights and business situation in Belarus. The guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the ways in which companies do or may impact human rights in Belarus.
Week Against the Death Penalty. On 5 October the Human Rights Centre Viasna and FIDH presented a joint report on the death penalty in Belarus. This is the central event in a series of activities arranged in the framework of the Week Against the Death Penalty, which is held annually by the Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus on 5-10 October.
Eduard Paĺčys is a political prisoner. On 5 October, Belarusian human rights organisations issued a joint statement regarding the politically motivated prosecution of blogger Eduard Paĺčys, editor of the 1863x.com website, and called him a political prisoner. Paĺčys is accused of committing criminal crimes on incitement to racial, national or religious enmity and distribution of pornographic materials.
Belarus launches a tourism accessibility campaign. The initiative announced by the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, aims at promoting the right of persons with disabilities for equal participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport. It is expected that up to 30 public facilities will be adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. The project is funded by the EU with the budget of 1.111 million euro.
9th call of humanitarian program Meeting Place: Dialogue. The program is implemented by the Understanding International NGO and funded by the German Federal Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future. The program aims at social support of citizens who suffered from Nazi persecution during WWII, as well as other members of the war generation. The project budget can be 5K-20K euros per year. Deadline is 30 November.
News of NGOs
Conference of the Belarusian National Platform (BNP) of the EaP Civil Society Forum is to be held on 22 October in Minsk. The conference aims at the adoption of regular reports, election of the Coordinating Committee, and discussion of the action plan for 2016. For the first time, the conference plans to discuss the contribution of organisations-participants to the activities of the BNP.
United Way launches a service to generate CSO registration documents. Ngo.by portal suggests a free service for Belarusian CSOs – a system of generation of official documents required for the creation of a CSO. By filling out a few lines with an actual data, users receive a complete registration package. The system generates documents using statutes and protocols of the registered CSOs.
53 newly-established NGOs were registered during the first six months of 2016. For the same period, authorities also registered 1 trade union, 2 unions of NGOs, and 5 local funds. As of 1 July 2016, as many as 2,695 NGOs and 41,327 NGO organisational structures were on the record. According to the Ministry of Justice of Belarus, majority of the NGOs are engaged in physical training and sports (722).
DzedLINE in Minsk. Belarusian public association of elderly and Gallery TUT.BY start a series of events called DzedLINE/Granddad LINE. The program aims to raise public awareness and talk in a clear language about what aging is, when it starts, and whether it is possible to slow down the aging. The first event will take place on 12 October. The aging topic is also raised in a photo fashion-project about active seniors.
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.
Ostrogorski Centre: Belarus becomes neutral to survive
Ostrogorski Centre releases the first major publication on neutrality in Belarusian foreign and national security policy authored by Siarhei Bohdan and Gumer Isaev.
This trend towards a real neutrality of Belarus increased in the past decade. For a long time it was misinterpreted as Minsk opportunistically moving back and forth between Moscow and the West. Yet by the mid-2010s, these elements of neutrality became a reliable part 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 accepted although other countries refused to take it serious. However, that may be the only way for Belarus to survive as a state in current circumstances.
First bigger research paper on Belarusian neutrality
For the purposes of this publication, done by Siarhei Bohdan and Gumer Isayev, neutrality is defined on the basis of modern-time political practice rather than formal legal concepts. Hence neutrality shall mean policies aimed at maintaining distance from political and military blocks and parties to conflicts.
This distance, certainly, differs depending on specific circumstances. It may include formal membership in associations of political and military integration, as well as bilateral security-related arrangements, as long as they do not crucially affect the international position of the country.
Given the extent of Belarusian-Russian entanglement, this paper focuses on the differences between Minsk and Moscow as the main reference point in study. All Belarusian attempts to assert neutrality necessarily start with readjusting the interaction between Belarus and Russia. Therefore, the study looked at the issues in which Minsk’s policy differed from Russia’s without siding with its opponents.
Neutrality or westward drift?
Among the major conclusions of the paper:
- Although the 1994 Constitution of Belarus establishes its aim to become a neutral state, Belarusian neutrality remained a fiction for many years as Minsk remained a loyal ally of Russia.
- However, since the late 2000s the Belarusian government has pursued policies demonstrating effective neutrality. This was the result of a series of ad hoc decisions by Belarusian leadership regarding the major issues of the country's foreign and national security policies.
- Minsk avoided siding with Russia in its assertive policy in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, developed relations with Russia' opponents and opposed the redrawing of post-Soviet borders. Concurrently, the Belarusian government reviewed its own national security policies, limited Russian military presence within its borders and increased the autonomy of the Belarusian armed forces and security agencies.
- Some Russian commentators have accused Minsk of “drifting” to the West. However, Minsk avoids challenging or confronting Moscow. The policy it now pursues can be better described as neutrality.
Recommendations: Neutrality requires participation of all major political forces
The authors of the paper conclude, Belarusian neutrality is being built ad hoc. Thus, it suffers from poor media coverage and weak expert support. The prospects of Belarusian neutrality still remain uncertain, as Minsk still needs it to be recognised in the East and West, as well as by neighbouring states.
There is no doubt that in order to implement some model of neutrality, the Belarusian government has yet to fulfil several challenging tasks. First of all, it requires recognition for Belarusian neutrality from its foreign partners, especially Russia. To do that, Minsk needs to prove that neutrality does not entail a pro-Western or anti-Russian stance.
Belarusian neutrality ought to be acceptable to Moscow. It means self-restraint for Belarusian foreign and national security policy, as well as self-restraint in domestic political debates. Such a policy could succeed and be accepted by Russia and other countries only if supported by a very wide consensus in Belarusian society.
However, most of the opposition, the media independent of the Belarusian government, and the related analytical community would not currently subscribe to neutrality. They would be especially wary of a model of neutrality involving close interaction with Russia (as in the Finnish case after WWII).
This problem is a general one: all other foreign policy and national security options except joining NATO and the EU have been discarded in the region over the last two decade and Minsk would have a difficult time overcoming this mindset. Nevertheless, the current Belarusian government has no other choice but to persuade broader segments of the Belarusian opposition about the necessity of supporting neutrality. It cannot accomplish this until the political regime becomes more pluralist and the constructive opposition has a stake in governance.
This broad public support for neutrality is necessary, inter alia, to convince Russia that Belarusian neutrality is the real will of all mainstream political forces in Belarus. Otherwise, there is an extremely high risk – if not certainty – that Russia would perceive Belarusian neutrality as a concept supported only by certain political factions and that it will be discarded by Minsk as soon as the constellation of forces in domestic Belarusian politics changes.
Likewise, in order to persuade Russia that Belarusian neutrality is genuine, Minsk needs a military capacity which would guarantee that Belarus does not compromise Russian security. To do that, firstly, Minsk shall accommodate reasonable and legitimate security needs of Russia. For instance, it can continue cooperating with Russia on air defence. Secondly, it needs to pay attention to Russian security needs and sensitivities in building Belarusian armed forces, e.g., by deploying appropriate arms systems.
In brief, Minsk, might have no other choice but “to go neutral”. The Belarusian establishment also understands that it is becoming ever more risky to remain Russia’s ally. At the same time, given the geographical location of Belarus, as well as its political economy and cultural ties with Russia, Minsk cannot simply “defect” to Western-dominated blocks and organisations.
Opinion surveys and other circumstantial evidence shows, the majority of Belarusians can choose neutrality. It can also found support among significant segments of Belarusian political, economic and cultural elites.
Other options – like further drift towards any foreign countries or blocs and joining them – might involve Belarus in internal political confrontations. Internal clashes would be supported by foreign powers as the case of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has demonstrated and can end in an open armed conflict. Given Belarus’ current position, which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, neutrality might be the only way for the Belarusian state to survive, develop, and succeed.
- Read full paper: Elements of Neutrality in Belarusian Foreign Policy and National Security Policy
- Чытаць аналітычны дакумент: Элементы нейтралітэту ў беларускай знешняй палітыцы і палітыцы нацыянальнай бяспекі
About the authors
Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. He is an alumnus of the Belarus State University and holds an MA degree from the European Humanities University in Lithuania. Siarhei comes from Maladzechna, Belarus. Contact him at: email@example.com.
Gumer Isayev is associate professor at the Süleyman Şah University in Istanbul, Turkey, until it was closed down in a series of political repression after the July 2016 coup attempt. He holds an MA and PhD degrees from the State Saint Petersburg University in Russia. Gumer comes from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.