Civil Society Platform, Republican Social Forum held in Belarus – Civil Society Digest
Conference of the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society, unsuccessful legal challenge of new laws restricting civil society activities were among the main developments last week.
Conference of the Belarusian National Platform. On October 29, Conference of the Belarusian National Platform of the EaP CSF "Civil society of Belarus: on the eve of the third annual meeting of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum" was held in Minsk. According to the adopted Memorandum, the purpose of National Platform is to strengthen the institutional capacity of civil society organizations to influence the processes of democratization of the country, the Belarusian-European cooperation, agenda for reforms in Belarus towards European standards in all spheres of society. The National Platform elected an interim Steering Committee, headed by Vladimir Mackievich. Ales Byalyatsky was elected Honorary member of the Committee.
Public Statement of members of National Civil Society Platform. The leaders of a number of NGOs issued a public statement cautioning against politicization of Belarusian National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which they see in the proposed 2012 Strategy. In their statement leaders of 13 NGOs express support for the National Platform as a platform for communication and dialogue towards modernization of Belarus and its European integration. The signatories include Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies, Human Rights Center "Viasna" and others.
Civil society groups petition Constitutional Court over controversial draft laws. On October 24, twenty-six civil society groups have petitioned the Constitutional Court over controversial draft laws that would extend the powers of the Committee for State Security (KGB), introduce additional restrictions on street protests and tighten penalties for political and civil society groups receiving foreign aid. The petitioners included, among others, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Legal Transformation Center, movement “For Freedom”, etc.
Constitutional Court endorses controversial amendments. Constitutional Court of Belarus upheld amendments to the law of mass actions and laws governing political activity. The decision was adopted on October 28. The bills toughening the rules for public events, as well as the conditions for political parties and NGOs were adopted by the House of Representatives on October 03 in two readings at a closed meeting for the media. The Upper House of parliament approved the document on October 21.
About a thousand people celebrated Dzyady (Forefathers). On October 30, in Minsk the Conservative Christian Party held a march to Kurapaty, where for the years of Stalinist terror more than 200 thousand people were killed. Among the participants there were many young people, including activists of the Young Front, the civil campaign "European Belarus", Belarusian Christian Democracy, etc. Since the action was sanctioned by authorities, the police did not intervene in the proceedings.
The campaign "Free visa!" prepares volunteers to work in Belarus. Belarus Watch (Lithuania) under the campaign "Free visa!" conducted by a coalition of Belarusian and European NGOs starts recruitment of volunteers who will promote the campaign in Belarus. Participants will be invited for trainings in Belarus and Lithuania for the organization of civil activity.
ALDA starts mini grant program in Belarus. ALDA and its Belarusian partners Lev Sapieha Foundation and the Belarusian Organization of Working Women (BOWW) are now officially starting the TANDEM project. The project starts with a call for mini grants and partnership projects for promoting sustainable development in Belarus. The mini grants are open for Belarusian NGOs and municipalities. The mini grants for the civic initiatives are up to 4,000 Euro and for partnership projects up to 8,000 Euro.
International Business Forum. On November 16, Minsk will host the First International Forum of Business under the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Belarus. The International Business Forum will be held in open discussions with representatives from government, Belarusian and foreign experts and professionals in business, policy and education. The official representative of the Global Week in Belarus is Center of business communications BELBIZ.
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.
The New Grand Army of Lukashenka
Following military manoeuvres in the south of Belarus last Friday, the Belarusian ruler put forth a completely new idea for developing public administration. He ordered the formation of a new army called the territorial defence troops.
The idea is reminiscient of what Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein once tried to do in their countries: effectively undermining national armies through the creation of parallel paramilitary and military units. Sounding oddly similar to the deceased Libyan colonel, Lukashenka said, “Territorial defence shall encompass the entire state and people. If necessary, we are going to spend huge sums on it.” At the same time the Belarusian leader gave generals' insignia to previously civilian governors of all six Belarusian regions.
“It is a fact that you are becoming general-governors, yet I emphasize it is not for demonstration or prestige – the human resources policy will be changed towards giving the people command of the territorial defense troops. We are creating, if you want, a new army in Belarus which will be commanded by you”. According to Lukashenka, the new army will have 120,000 troops. This is big number, as today the regular national army of Belarus has only 65,000 active personnel.
In the new circumstances regional administrators shall solve not only economic and social problems but are also responsible for the military component, said the Belarusian leader. “Our governors are military and responsible people, therefore starting today the second part of your life is military security. You should organize territorial defense maneuvers… There shall be concrete persons assigned to every automatic rifle, pistols, RPG, to every weapon.”
According to Lukashenka, territorial defence forces should cooperate with the conventional army. The experience of other countries (like Libya, Iraq or Iran), however, shows that such co-existence is both counterproductive and inefficient.
It is hard to find a plausible rationale behind the decision, yet in highly seclusive and person-oriented Belarusian politics, such a decision might indeed be taken by Lukashenka personally. He admits, “It is me who has taken the decision. If we do not learn today, then we will suffer the consequences tomorrow. For that aim no money can be withheld.”
Apparently security issues seriously worry the Belarusian regime ever since a new wave of popular movements struck at Middle Eastern regimes befriended by Minsk. Last summer, Belarus held manoeuvres explicitly aimed at training counter-insurgency and riot control. Meanwhile, Lukashenka openly discussd the possibility of creating an anti-revolutionary bloc of dictatorships which should have the right to intervene if a protest movement threatens to topple the government in any country of the alliance. With Russian support it would be a guarantee against regime change.
Lukashenka also strengthened the KGB and urged police and security services to strike at he opposition. And now the Belarusian regime is obsessed with restructuring the national security system through the so-called territorial defence.
It is quite innovative in these activities. For instance, earlier this week, Lukashenka talked of engaging businessmen in territorial defence, where they presumably could play the role of grassroots leaders. Such an approach may prove attractive for some entrepreneurs which are actually engaged with local authorities. The regime will have to rely on regional elites – a mix of businesses and state bureaucrats – to create their own little armies. That would create more opportunities for exploitation of their power, now also in the military sphere.
In the early 2000s the government allowed the local authorities down to rather low, district levels to ban the sale of products from other regions of the country, if such commodities were produced in the district. Despite being a serious violation of Belarusian law, such a prohibition has been effective for years in probably all regions of Belarus.
In any event, such an erratic move will ultimately be one more blow to the institution of the Belarusian state. The Belarusian national army will now probably get even less funding. Clearly the bankrupt government has no money for two armies and will now redirect the scarce resources to finance the new idea of Lukashenka. The whole country will turn into a field for egotistic local elites which have already for years disrupted the single economic space of Belarus. Now they will have even more means at their disposal to preserve their power while continuing mismanagement.
Businessmen are increasingly fusing together with the nomenclature, as only so can both survive in Lukashenka's regime. Now local rulers – and all of them are appointed by the president without consulting local residents – will have even more means at their disposal to preserve their power and continue mismanagement. They will not only arm themselves, they will also have more opportunities to handle local residents as they wish. Now male residents will become 'soldiers' and a local administrator may easily draft them anytime.
Lukashenka probably hoped to mobilize new forces supporting regime through this militarisation move. Yet there are sufficient reasons to think that even if such reasoning was a factor it may ultimately backfire. The local nomenclature clings to the regime only because they need resources and there is a lack of any alternatives. If there is an alternative, they may quickly abandon their boss together with their little armies.
No matter, who comes after Lukashenka, because of Friday's decision, the new authorities will have two more problems to fix – a destroyed military and rampant 'feudal' elites in the regions. The longer Lukashenka stays in power, the weaker the state institutions become.