CIS leaders rating, new local politicians, gas price drop, labour migration – Belarus state press digest
Minsk approves the current pragmatic approach of the EU towards the Eastern Partnership. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka is the top rated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leader among Russians. The authorities expect new faces in politics after 2018 local election.
The cost of Russian gas for Belarus will decrease in 2018. Chinese Midea Group is expanding its business in Belarus. Belarusians are increasingly looking for jobs abroad.
This and more in the new Belarus state press digest.
Politics and foreign policy
The EU does not fully understand the ultimate goal of the Eastern Partnership. The EU, exhausted by internal difficulties, cannot bear the burden of geopolitical confrontation with Moscow, argues political scientist Usievalad Šymaŭ in an article published in Respublika, a Minsk based newspaper. Judging by the results of the Eastern Partnership summit, pragmatists in Europe now clearly dominate over hawks. The final declaration of the summit focused exclusively on a positive agenda and tried to bypass all dispute and moments of conflict, especially those related to the war in Ukraine.
This is a good sign for Belarus. It is precisely this format of cooperation that Minsk traditionally advocates, diligently avoiding ideology, which relations with the EU always entail. However, today’s pragmatic EU is a product not so much of goodwill as of internal weakness. European eastern policy may still undergo significant changes, which Belarus should remain prepared for.
Alexander Lukashenka heads the rating of CIS leaders among Russia’s population. The Presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Nursultan Nazarbayev, appeared highest on Russia’s rating of trust in leaders among CIS member states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan). According to the poll conducted by the All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, 62 per cent of Russians trust Aliaksandr Lukashenka, and 56 per cent trust Nursultan Nazarbayev, reports Belarus Segodnia, a daily newspaper.
In addition, Russians recognise Belarus (64 per cent) and Kazakhstan (57 per cent) as their country’s main partners. Appraisals of the protection of Russian-speaking populations have also risen significantly. 66 per cent of Russians think that Russian-speakers enjoy full rights in Belarus (27 per cent in 2010), and 38 per cent thinks so of Kazakhstan (18 per cent in 2013).
The authorities expect new faces in politics after the 2018 local elections. Daily Belarusian newspaper Zviazda quoted the chairman of the Belarusian Central Election Commission, Lidzija Jarmošyna, who spoke on 6 December in Viciebsk at a training session for managers and organisers for the upcoming local councils elections.
Commenting on the applications, which are just now being sent in to the Central Election Commission, Lidzija Jarmošyna noted that they mostly concern the nomination of candidates for deputies. The candidates are inquiring about certain regulations, such as the declaration of property, use of election funds, and advertising rules. “All of this suggests that many individual candidates will participate in the election, because those from existing parties already have experience in such matters. We will have unexpected figures and new politicians,” said Jarmošyna.
The cost of Russian gas for Belarus will decrease in 2018. The price of Russian gas for Belarus in 2018 will drop from $143 to $129 per 1000 cubic metres, and to $127 in 2019. The lower price will make Belarusian enterprises more competitive, writes Belarus Segodnia. According to Energy Ministry estimates, the economic effect of the price reduction will reach $700m. By the end of the year, Belarus and Russia hope to define an approach to the formation of a common gas market in the Eurasian Economic Union by 2025.
The sides still disagree on tariffs for the transportation of gas through member state territory. Today, Russia’s Gazprom has exclusive rights to supply gas to Belarus. However, after the creation of the common gas market, the consumers will be able to purchase it from various producers in Russia and Kazakhstan through the stock exchange or by signing long-term contracts.
Chinese Midea Group is expanding its business in Belarus. On 27 November President Lukashenka hosted Fang Hongbo, the Chairman of the Board and President of Midea Group. The corporation is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of household appliances in China and the world with about 130,000 employees. The Belarusian leader said, “[Chinese businessmen] will not only always find the understanding of our leadership, but also all kinds of support.”
Midea Group came to Belarus a decade ago. It began production of microwave ovens and water heaters jointly with Horizont Holding, a Belarusian conglomerate. Fang Hongbo expressed his satisfaction with the results Midea Group’s partnership in Belarus over the period. He also spoke about the intention to use Belarus as a starting site for expansion to CIS markets. Midea Group plans to develop its existing production and to introduce new items, including refrigerators and washing machines.
More Belarusians are looking for jobs abroad. According to the Head of the Presidential Administration Natallia Kačanava, 97,600 Belarusians are currently working abroad, reports Narodnaja Hazieta, a Belarusian politics and society newspaper. Meanwhile, the Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Migration published a report, which claims 346,000 Belarusians registered as migrants in Russia just in the past year. Moreover, some Belarusian migrants work in Russia illegally without registering.
However, because of Russia’s recession, more and more Belarusian labour migrants choose to work in Poland. In 2015, Polish employers registered some 5,500 work invitations for Belarusians under Poland’s simplified employment scheme. In 2016, this figure rose to about 25,000, and then went even higher in the first half of 2017. A study carried out by the the Institute of Sociology at the National Academy of Sciences shows that at present more than 8–10 per cent of Belarusian citizens are looking for work abroad.
The government has formulated preferential conditions for Geely car sales. The President has told administrators to increase the warranty period of the Belarusian-Chinese Geely car from 4 to 5 years and offer preferential conditions to buyers, writes Respublica. Belarusians will have the opportunity to make the first payment at 10 per cent a vehicle’s total cost, and then to either lease or finance it over 7 years. The sale of Geely vehicles under these new conditions begin this December.
The cost of Geely’s three new car models vary in the range of $17,000–$25,000. The government expects to sell at least 25,000 cars in the coming year, increasing this number by 10,000 annually. However, in the market for crossover vehicles—where Belarusian Geelys are located—competition remains very high. The entire domestic crossover market does not exceed 6,000 cars a year.
The state press digest is based on the 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.
Belarus at EaP summit 2017, peacekeepers in Ukraine, London conference, legal education – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In November, analysts from the Ostrogorski Centre gave reasons for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka not attending the Eastern Partnership summit, assessed growing international support for Belarusian peacekeepers in Ukraine, and outlined how geopolitics increase the heft of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus.
The Ostrogorski Centre and the Faculty of Law of the Belarusian State University with the support of the British Embassy will hold a conference on the reform of legal education on 28 December 2017 in Minsk.
The Ostrogorski Centre has also continued to update the Belarus Policy database of research papers in the areas of economy, governance, and politics.
Igar Gubarevich tries to answer the questions why the time was not ripe for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka to visit the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit, where EU leaders met with six Eastern neighbouring nations—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine—to discuss how to achieve stronger cooperation in economy, governance, connectivity and society. After a lengthy pause, Lukashenka declined the European Union’s invitation to lead his country’s delegation at the EaP summit in Brussels.
Why did the Belarusian leader deliberately miss the long-awaited opportunity to rub shoulders with Europe’s most powerful men and women? Few politicians and experts expected such a decision. Speculations abounded about Lukashenka’s motives, including the lack of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refusal to meet the Belarusian peacemaker, and a wish to avoid the possibility of protesters in Brussels.
Siarhei Bohdan discusses how Minsk is working to secure the support of key international players for an active role in defusing the Ukrainian crisis. Minsk wishes to find a new, international niche for itself through engaging in conflict resolutions. A central goal is to cast off the tired “last European dictatorship” epithet. At the same time, the volatility of the region has pushed Belarus along this course of action. Russian support is uncertain and increasingly limited. Thus, the Belarusian government has tried both to defuse at least some tensions around Ukraine and to gain more international respect.
Until now, Minsk’s efforts to become more neutral have appeared problematic. Moscow, in general, has never appreciated these attempts. The West has been unsure of Belarusian claims of neutrality. However, if Belarus does deploy peacekeepers in the Donbas Region, then arguably Russia, the West and other neighbouring states would, in effect, be validating Belarus’s right not to choose sides.
Vadzim Smok analyses how geopolitics increase the heft of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus. This year, the Catholic Church strengthened its criticism of unjust state policies against it when compared with the dominant Russian Orthodox Church. Against a backdrop of warming Belarus-West relations, the Catholic Church seems to feel more confident and, therefore, more able to publicly voice its problems with the authorities. Meanwhile, Minsk realises the importance of the Church for reaching its strategic goals and understands it will have to listen to Belarusian Catholics more carefully.
Call for Papers: The Third Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies
The Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century Conference Committee, the Ostrogorski Centre and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum invite proposals from established academics and doctoral researchers for individual papers and panel discussions on contemporary Belarusian studies. The conference is a multidisciplinary forum for Belarusian studies in the West.
All proposals will be considered on any subject matter pertaining to Belarus. This year, however, proposals relating to human rights, social media, education, the history of the Belarusian People’s Republic, Belarusian history and culture and sociology are particularly encouraged. A selection of peer-reviewed papers will be published in the Journal of Belarusian Studies in 2018.
As in previous years, in addition to the conference, which will be held 23–24 March 2018 at University College London, several other Belarus-related events will take place in London. The 2018 conference will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic, the first modern attempt of Belarusian statehood, as well as the 10th anniversary of Belarus Digest.
To submit a paper or panel proposal, please complete an online registration form at http://tinyurl.com/belauk2018 by 15 December 2017. Successful candidates will be notified by 5 January 2018. The working language of the conference is English.
There is a £10GPB registration fee associated with the conference to cover related expenses. You may pay the fee at the door or pay online (see the registration form for details). If you are unable to pay the registration fee, the organisers can a waiver. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for a fee waiver.
The organisers can provide non-UK based applicants with invitation letters for visas.
For any questions, please contact either Stephen Hall or Peter Braga at email@example.com.
Conference co-chairs: Professor Andrew Wilson and Professor Yarik Kryvoi
Please use this hastag #belstudies
Conference: Legal education reform in Belarus and the United Kingdom: sharing experience and looking to the future
On 28 December 2017 in Minsk, the Ostrogorski Centre and the Faculty of Law of the Belarusian State University with the support of the British Embassy will hold a conference on the reform of legal education. The Conference will be held at the Faculty of Law of the BSU (8 Leninhradskaja Street).
Rule of law is an indispensable foundation for a market economy, which provides an essential environment for the creation and preservation of wealth, economic security, well-being, and for improving the quality of life. Establishing the rule of law has been a challenge for all post-Soviet states in their transitions to a market economy and economic growth. Meanwhile, in Belarus, where the role of the state in the economy remains strong, further development of the legal system and training specialists in law should be a priority.
This conference will focus on legal education and its potential role in the reform process in Belarus. It will enable the British and Belarusian academics, businessmen and officials to discuss best practices and trends in legal education. In particular, the panels will discuss the organisation of the educational process, the development of professional skills for students and specialists, as well as opportunities for international cooperation in the field of legal education.
More information about the conference is available here.
Comments in the media
Impressed by the US electric car Tesla, President Lukashenka ordered Belarusian manufacturers to produce a domestic analogue. Neighbouring Moscow and Warsaw also have plans for a transition to electric vehicle manufacturing. The Russian government is working on a comprehensive program of support for the development of its electric car industry, while Polish leaders expect to produce one million electric vehicles within 5 years. Ostrogorski Centre analyst Vadzim Smok discussed on Radio Poland whether Belarus will succeed in becoming a pioneer in the production of electric vehicles in the region.
The UAE is a kind of hub for the Arab region, through which Belarus can access a number of rich countries that have ties with the West. In addition, sheikhs from the UAE are investing considerable funds in various projects in “third countries,” a term for countries outside the EU. Due to its friendship with the UAE, Belarus could also participate in these investment projects. Indeed, Emirate investments could also go directly to Belarus, which is already happening. Naviny.by, a web-based news portal, quotes Ostrogorski Centre associate analyst Siarhei Bohdan in фт article about the recent visit of Alexander Lukashenka to the UAE.
Over the last few months, Alexander Lukashenka appointed a number of new military chiefs who have never studied at Russian military schools. This is in contrast to the majority of the new appointees’ peers. In addition, certain candidates for official positions known to speak Belarusian on a daily basis also received high posts. Ostrogorski Centre analyst Vadzim Smok on Radio Poland discussed whether this indicates ‘Belarusianisation’ of the government is intended to strengthen the country’s independence and national identity.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
- Piotr Rudkouski. Soft Belarusianisation. The ideology of Belarus in the era of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. BISS, 2017.
- Andrei Sushko, Dzmitry Valodzin. E-participation as an instrument of inclusive public administration. BIPART, 2017.
- Anastasiya Luzhina. Elimination of corruption and tax evasion in the construction sector of Belarus. BEROC, 2017.
- Alexander Chubrik. The impact of the recession on the regions of Belarus: the role of starting conditions, economic policy and small business. IPM Research Centre, 2017.
- Hleb Shymanovich. Development of small and medium business in Belarus in 2016. IPM Research Centre, 2017.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion in the database by emailing us.
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.