Congress Of Belarusian Studies Scheduled for October in Kaunas
Organisers of the International Congress of Belarusian Studies officially published its list of sections and panels for the upcoming event.
This year's Congress will include a wide range topics such as culture, Belarusian language translations of the Bible and problems facing the modernisation of the Belarusian economy.
The Congress remains a rare opportunity for scholars from all over the world to gather with their colleagues from Belarus. This year it will take place the 3-5 October in Kaunas.
The Congress has already become a recognisable brand and an academic must for researchers and experts who professionally deal with Belarus.
Kaunas will be hosting a few hundred international participants for the event for the fourth time. During the Congress' gathering, this sleepy Lithuanian city becomes a vibrant meeting point for researchers of Belarus.
Belarus Digest spoke with Aliaksei Lastouski, Head of the Department of Modern History at the Belarusian Collegium and a senior analyst at the institute for political studies Political Sphere, which is the main organiser of the Congress, in order to understand what it is all about.
Who Comes to the Congress in Kaunas?
The Congress has already become a permanent fixture of autumn in Kaunas. The International Congress of Belarusian Studies took place there for the first time back in 2011 as an initiative of Andrei Kazakevich, the Director of the institute for political studies Political Sphere.
Today the Congress remains the largest event fully devoted to research on Belarus. “We expect around 350-400 scholars this year”, Aliaksei Lastouski told Belarus Digest.
Belarusian researchers constitute a majority of the participants of the Congress. Other scholars come primarily from neighbouring Poland, Lithuania, but also from more remote and less obvious places, like Japan. Last year nearly 400 scholars from 16 countries took part in the Congress.
Kaunas: Connecting Scholars from Belarus
The large number of participants from countries other than Belarus proves that there is indeed a niche for Belarus-oriented research. The event fills this gap and facilitates researchers coming together. The popularity of the Congress also demonstrates the demand from the Belarusian scholarly community to meet and communicate with their colleagues from other countries. Belarusian scholars continue to carry out their work in stifling isolation, Aliaksei Lastouski argues.
The organisers of the Congress aim to provide participants with an opportunity to meet up, present their research, as well as discuss their ideas and potential opportunities for future cooperation. Indeed, the organisers guarantee facilities, so the participants can busy themselves networking with other scholars.
Participants stay in the same hotels, have lunch in the same place, and have ample opportunity to talk during coffee breaks – apart from more practical purposes, it also helps to create a specific sense of solidarity, according to Lastouski.
The Congress also promotes researchers of Belarusian area studies, awarding them annually for the best Belarus-related publication in humanities and social sciences. What clearly distinguishes this event from others, is its multidisciplinary nature. This year the list of sections to be covered is to include economics, politics and society.
The Congress: "a Zone of Freedom", but is not Politicised
According to Lastouski, the Congress remains a “zone of freedom”, where academics can freely present and discuss their research without fear of being censored, unlike in Belarus. The organisers openly welcome scholars with various views.
But at the same time, the Congress is not a political platform. The event should be regarded as a platform for constructive dialogue where its participants can freely discuss differing views on the development of the country.
Although the Congress specifically brings together Belarus-oriented scholars, and a majority of the researchers who attend are Belarusian, it takes place in neighbouring Lithuania rather than in Belarus. The organisers decided to organise it outside of the country in order to minimise the risks associated with potential academic censorship.
This is an issue that a number of Belarusian-related events and organisations have faced and, as a result, have moved to Lithuania in search of more favourable conditions. For example, the Belarus Research Council holds its events in Vilnius and the institute for political studies Political Sphere is also registered in Lithuania.
Moving Back to Belarus
Belarus, naturally, would be the most ideal place to organise these events event. "Kaunas is just a temporary place for the Congress", Lastouski explains. Given the current circumstances, the city has simply several advantages over other places outside Belarus.
These include its high quality infrastructure and affordable accommodation for the congress' participants, even for those coming from further abroad. Organisational support from the Kaunas-based Vytautas Magnus University is an additional argument supporting holding the congress there. “I hope that the situation in Belarus will improve, and there will no longer be any restrictions or barriers to organise it there one day", Aliaksei Lastouski explains – but for now, this is just wishful thinking.
Over the past couple of years Lithuania has become a hub for a number of Belarus-oriented events. Clearly, Belarus' neighbour offers something that is scarcely available in Belarus, as true in the case of academic events – a better environment for discussion of pressing political, economic and social issues.
Lithuanian cities, such as Kaunas and Vilnius, are well-known for hosting not only the International Congress of Belarusian Studies, but also the European Humanities University and other conferences and seminars devoted to Belarus. It seems that both Lithuania and Belarusian civil society derive benefits from this situation. Lithuanian receives financial benefits and provides support, while Belarusian scholars and activists can freely work on their projects.
The organisers of the Congress have already closed the call for submissions for individual applications. However, anyone interested in the event, can register to attend one or another section as a guest. The registration form is available here.
Positive Coverage of the Ukrainian Elections, Public-Private Partnership – Belarus State TV Digest
Commenting on the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, Belarus state TV journalists noted how unique the elections were because people did not vote strictly along the East-West lines as they traditionally had in the past.
State TV journalists presented moderately positive views on the elections results in their coverage. They also noted the pro-European stance of the newly elected president. However, reporters also tended to emphasise the potential difficulties of receiving financial aid from the EU countries.
“A global document”, “historical moment”, “centre of regional developments” – are just some of the phrases that journalists employed while enthusiastically reporting on the signing of the Eurasian Union treaty.
"An exceptionally high attendance and a number of tourists" – the Ice Hockey World Championship has already come to a close and journalists sum up what Belarus has gained from hosting its first major international sporting event.
No British Aid for the Ukrainian Economy? The newly elected head of state, Petro Poroshenko, is promising to rebuild the Ukrainian economy using foreign loans. He is also aiming to sign the economic part of the Association Agreement with the European Union in the near future as well.
State TV coverage points out that the British authorities have thus far declined to give financial aid to Ukraine. The reason behind this apparent decision is due to a lack of support among the citizens of Great Britain.
The Presidential Elections: Minsk's Reaction. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus has officially recognised the Ukrainian election results. State TV poured praise on the newly elected president pointing out that he had already made a few important statements, including the necessity of dialogue with Russia. Petro Poroshenko also supports Ukraine's integration with the EU.
The elections proved to be surprisingly fair, with a small number of incidents or complaints, according to the report. Even the major rival of Poroshenko, ex-prime minister Yulia Timoshenko, agreed that the elections were conducted in an open and free manner and is not challenging the results.
These Elections Different than Those Before Them? The newly elected Ukrainian leader gained around 55% of all of the votes. This makes him unique insofar as his margin of victory allowed him to win in one round. In contrast to previous presidential elections, Ukrainians did not vote along West-East lines for one or another candidate.
Poroshenko has to face several challenges, like re-establishing peace in the country's eastern regions. Another issue before the new president is solving the ongoing Russia-Ukraine gas dispute. The Ukrainian authorities believe that the new price for gas being asked for by Moscow is far too high.
The Eurasian Union Treaty Agreement: Historical moment, a Global Document. Journalists provided a great deal of coverage for the signing of the treaty in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital. Two more states, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, are also interested in becoming a part of the Eurasian Union.
The report took note of the fact that the initiative to push for Eurasian integration originated with Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He suggested the creation of a common market for all three countries, Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus years before the project really got off the ground.
The pace of Eurasian economic integration is particularly surprising, according to state TV coverage, because it took only a few years to happen, “unlike [with] the Europeans who have lost decades over their's” – in the words of the journalist covering the story. The Eurasian Union is one the biggest integration projects worldwide, with a population of over 170 million people.
The Banderovtsy are Nazis. The Russian Duma adopted a law making the symbolism of banderovtsy (Ukrainian nationalist activists of the World War II period) equivalent to that of the Nazi's. This includes any and all symbols or emblems of organisations which were said to have cooperated with the Nazis during WW2.
CIS as a Unique Platform for Constructive Dialogue. State TV journalists provided heavy coverage of the recent summit of member states from the Commonwealth of Independent States. State TV provides commentary on the historical reasons for the establishment of the organisation, stating “then it seemed completely absurd to break all of the cultural and purely human relations that had been evolving over past centuries”.
According to the report, at present the Commonwealth of Independent States remains the only organisation that allows its member states to work out solutions to any problems its countries have between themselves. Thanks to its membership, Belarus has an opportunity to play an important role as an intermediary between the CIS and EU member states.
Lukashenko-Medvedev Meet. The Belarusian leader commented on the scepticism of those who did not believe in the Eurasian Union ever coming into existence. “We had many problems, questions which we were trying to decide: the supply of oil to Belarus, oil taxes, transportation (…) I have to say that all of the issues related to oil and gas have been dealt with at this point” – Lukashenka stated during the meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He also pointed out the role that Dmitrii Medvedev played in helping find solutions to several controversial issues and pushing forward with the work that needed to be done before the agreement could be signed.
Plenty of Profits from the Ice Hockey World Championship. State TV praised the international sporting event that recently came to a close in Minsk. “Record attendance, a colossal TV audience, and as a result, financial dividends”, it stated. The championship had a record attendance of 651,861 people.
According to state TV, the visa-free regime combined with a wise price policy attracted a large number of foreign tourists. During the championship 420,000 litres of Belarusian beer was sold and over 80,000 tourists visited Belarus, they enthusiastically note. According to state TV's coverage, the success of the event is irrefutable and Belarus should consider trying to host the ice hockey championship again in several years.
Foreign Business in Belarus. Recently, Minsk attracted not only the World Ice Hockey Championship fans, but also foreign investors. The head of state met with several potential investors, including representatives of several large European companies. An informal meeting was conducted in the format of an open dialogue. The meeting was very fruitiful and led to several Swiss-Belarusian projects being launched. Despite its apparent success, the Belarusian leader gave a precautionary statement to all of its participants about the golden rule of competitiveness – only the best win.
State and Private Businesses Want to Cooperate More Intensively. A congress on private-public business cooperation took place in Minsk. Intensification of this kind of cooperation will bring benefits not only to the state and to business, but also ordinary Belarusians..
“One general European trend has also reached Belarus – mutual cooperation between private business and the state. Our country is paying attention to the experience of countries like Switzerland, Russia, Great Britain and China”.
In the EU, 51% of all state-private business projects have an impact on society, including healthcare, education and social services. State TV is careful to point out that this cooperation does not translate into the privatisation of these services.
The intensification of state-private business cooperation helps to decrease the state's spending, but also attracts new investment to the country. A proper law regarding this issue will be submitted to the Belarusian parliament in June and a Belarusian delegation will go to Switzerland to learn more about successful state-business projects.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). 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.