Dazhynki Festival: Belarusian Tradition or Lukashenka’s Propaganda?
Seventy years ago, on 4 October 1942 German authorities organised Dazhynki festival in Minsk. It was the first time the festival took place in Belarus with the highest level of state support.
On 21 September 2012 Aleksandr Lukashenka was opening a Dazhynki festival in Gorki, a small town in Eastern Belarus. Dazhynki is a traditional Eastern European celebration of completion of the harvest season. The Thanksgiving Day or Harvest festivals can be regarded as Western equivalents to Belarusian Dazhynki.
But today only Belarusian authorities celebrate it with such pomp. For Lukashenka, it is not just a holiday but also an important political show.
Lukashenko uses Dazhynki to demonstrate how much he supports agriculture. Belarusian towns compete for the right to host the holiday, as Dazhynki remains the best opportunity to improve their wellbeing.
Huge Costs for The Budget
State-level celebration of Dazhynki takes place in a new town every year. The state provides huge financial subsidies for urban reconstruction in the framework of the holiday. Comprehensive reparation works start a year before Dazhynki. The authorities build new roads, remove old and place new tiles, renovate residential buildings. Thus, it is not just an honour for local officials and residents to host Dazhynki, but also an opportunity to improve the welfare of their area.
The 2012 host of the festival is Gorki. The town with the population of 34 thousand people received around $110 mln for reconstruction. The money went mostly to refurbishment of roads and railway stations, construction of a 3D cinema and an amphitheatre.
Also, the local authorities refurbished Gotki Agricultural Academy, where Lukashenka used to study. They also built an Ice Hockey Palace, which has become an important element of Lukashenka's Belarus.
Of course, there was not enough money for a proper refurbishment for everyone. The authorities promised several town residents to repair their houses before Dazhynki. The houses looked as if they went through a war – there were holes in the floor and cracks in the walls.
The residents of the houses complained that there was an urgent need to change water pipes and sewers. The authorities really got down repairing, but they did not conduct the work they promised inside of the houses. Instead of that, the workers painted the houses from the outside, replaced the windows and cleaned the area.It was more important that the building looked nice from outside.
Struggle for the Right to Host Dazhynki
Belarusian towns compete for the right to host the holiday to receive additional funding. Each year a real “war” for the right to host the festival starts among the Belarusian officials class. Traditionally, the festival takes place in small towns, but now, after the financial crisis, big cities are also trying to get funding.
Previously, government appointed Rahachou as the host of the festival in the upcoming year. Today Rahachou remains a rather neglected town even by modest Belarusian standards. However, the Homel Regional Executive Committee was able to negotiate with Lukashenka to ensure that the following Dazhynki would be held in Homel.
Rahachou civil society activists community collected 2,500 signatures for returning the right to be Dazhynki host town. The attempts were in vain, but the authorities promised that they would fix Rahachou the following year anyway.
How the Regime and the Opposition Perceive Dazhynki
Dazhynki in Belarus is not simply an agricultural festival, but also a political one. On the one hand, the Belarusian regime is trying to show how much it cares about the Belarusian village. On the other hand, independent media often mock the rural grandiosity of the event. Interestingly, both sides are right here.
Lukashenka really loves Belarusian village. As a former director of a state-owned agricultural farm, he believes that the Belarusian village can be successful and he helps it. However, Lukashenka appeared to be stuck in his own past and simply refuses to see a reform path in the agricultural sector.
Independent media notice that just pro-regime musicians sing at Dazhynki in Belarus and the main aim of the event is to promote Lukashenka. The festival itself looks more like a drunken orgy for ordinary people and has little in common with Western festivals.
This year’s Dazhynki was held on September 21-23, during the parliamentary election. In order to settle the guests of the festival, the authorities decided to expel students from the dormitories for a few days.
University authorities "strongly encouraged" students to vote on the first day of early voting and go home. The result looked amazing – 71% of voters in the area where dormitories were located voted 6 days before the primary election day.
The Untold Story of Failing Belarusian Agriculture
Certainly, it is good that the authorities reconstruct cities, care about the prestige of agriculture and keep Belarusian traditional holidays. However, the grand pomp of the festival amid backwardness and poverty of Belarusian village looks out of place.
During 2001-2011 the Belarusian authorities spent $40 billion on agriculture. Despite massive subsidies, even the subsidised Belarusian export production often remains more expensive than in Western Europe. Weak material and technical base and high energy consumption do not allow Belarusian agricultural workers to make cheap products of high quality.
Although the state may provide free housing, people in villages have to struggle surviving on low salaries and suffering from alcoholism. A monthly salary lower than $190 is not rarity in Belarusian villages.
The main problem of agriculture is the lack of reforms and nearly complete dominance of state management. Today the Belarusian village has not improved much in comparison with the village of the former Soviet Union. Private investor still remains a rarity in Belarusian villages.
Rather than seriously dealing with these problems Belarusian authorities prefer to organise expensive political shows to create an appearance of wellbeing.
What to Expect in EU-Belarus Relations – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Analysts focus on the effect of recent elections on the politic landscape of Belarus and whether the European Union can do anything to improve the situation in Belarus.
The EU and Belarus: Perpetual Tango All Over Again? Giselle Bosse, European Policy Centre, analyses EU-Belarus relations to identify where next for EU policy towards Belarus. The expert makes some recommendations for the situation's improving.
In particular, the EU could be more speciﬁc about the goals of its policy and respectively knows the answers on some key questions, for instance, what is the EU longer term goal: to push Lukashenka to introduce reforms, or regime change?
Belarus Plays Cat and Mouse with EU – EUobserver fixes the fact of the recent releasing of two Belarusian political prisons – Siarhei Kavalenka and Pavel Syromolotov – and considers about the reasons of the authorities’ step. The edition quotes Belarusian Tribunal, a Dutch-based NGO, which claims that Kavalenka's release is an attempt to bargain with the EU to ease the sanctions.
Powerless Over Belarus – Euronews tries to find an answer whether Brussels will toughen its stance against Minsk following the latest result of the parliamentary elections. To get more insight on the political state of affairs in Belarus, the reporter spoke to Olga Stuzhinskaya, the Director of the Office for Democratic Belarus based in Brussels.
EU Poised to Extend Sanctions Against Belarus After Elections (for subscribers only) – The European Voice reports that the EU will be watching parliamentary elections in Belarus on Sunday (23 September) with a sense of uncertainty about how to adjust its policy towards its eastern neighbour after another year of clashes with the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The EV also gives reference to the think-tanks Carnegie Europe, IISEPS, and BISS quoting their vision of the current situation, as well as, mentions the Brussels-based Office for Democratic Belarus burglary.
Europe does Not Want a Revolution, but a Soft Transformation in Belarus – Kamil Klysinski, analyst of the Center for Eastern Studies (Warsaw), a specialist in Belarus, shares his reflections on the political situation in Belarus. In particular, the expert sees a strong authority and a weak opposition, which can not even properly communicate with the public and force the ruling class to the negotiations. At the same time, both for the European Union and Belarus the most appropriate scenario is soft reforms (dialogue), the only way to prevent chaos.
Belarus’ Foreign Policy Index, #9, July-August 2012 – Belarusian Institue for Strategic Studies presents a new issue of the Belarus’ Foreign Policy Index, covering the developments of July and August 2012. This period is marked by a serious drop in the intensity of relations. In the Russian sector the experts point a nearly two-fold drop in the Index; the development of relations with the European Union is again in the negative part of the chart.
Diary of Dale Cooper, or How I spent the Last Month Watching ONT – Yanina Melnikava, mediakritika.by, during the month daily watched programs of the state TV channel ONT with a purpose to understand its specifics. The expert analyzes separately entertainment dwell, advertising, news and concludes that the modern Belarusian television journalism is "a dangerous mix of "news parquet dance" and the burning state propaganda".
Belarus. Accents. #56 – Liberal club released its weekly information-analytical monitoring of Belarusian and foreign electronic media during the period September 10-16. Monitoring covers the main topics of cultural, economic, legal, business spheres as well as public administration. In particular, the authors note that inflationary potential of the country remains at a high level. In the case of a new round of economic crisis, inflation can quickly outstrip the planned 19%.
Bulletin PISM No 87, September 20, 2012 – The monthly bulletin of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) is dedicated to Belarus, specifically to pre-election situation and named "Election without choice". The experts note that the campaign in the run up to the parliamentary elections highlighted the lack of dialogue between the authorities and society. It also underlined the problems of the Belarusian opposition, i.e., the internal divisions and the lack of resources required to conduct political agitation.
It is high time to replace selfish and short-sighted opposition leaders – Vladimir Matskevich, Chair of the EuroBelarus Consortium Board, argues that the main reason for the continuing feud between supporters of the boycott and the parliamentary elections’ participation is the low political culture of the Belarusian opposition.
Will Belarusian NGOs’ leaders go to the polls? – On the eve of the parliamentary elections, EuroBelarus Information Service addressed to a number of NGOs’ representatives to know whether they are going to go to the polls for the upcoming parliamentary elections and what do they justify their actions with. Among respondents there are Andrei Kazakevich, "Palіtychnaya sphera"; Dzianis Melyantsou, BISS, Enira Bronitskaya, the Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Sergey Mackiewicz, the Assembly of NGOs, etc.
Working Papers of the First International Congress. Working materials of the First International Congress of Belarusian researchers were published at the website of Political Sphere. Remind the Congress took place on September 23-25, 2011 in Kaunas (Lithuania) and was attended by about 200 scientists from different countries. This year, II Congress of Belarusian researchers which was held on September 28-30, in Kaunas and was attended by over 300 people.
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.