Dead Organisations in the Belarusian Third Sector – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Over the last few weeks a number of analytical publications came out. BISS prepared two regular reports on the trends within the Belarusian society and priorities in Belarus's foreign policy. For the first time the UN issued a report on the trends in the field of human rights in Belarus.
Mediakritika.by monitored how the state and independent media find out the sources of their news. The Liberal Club discussed the possible consequences of the new health system reform implementation.
Belarusian Third Sector is Overloaded with Dead Organisations – Uladzimir Matskevich, the leader of the National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum considers problems and threats to the civil society. He pays attention to poor legislation and poor conditions for Belarusian NGOs which waste time on formation, existence and survival: “Only those who can get away from all those formal obligations and allocate time for thinking, criticism, reflection, evaluation, and mere human discussion are capable of something. But there are very few of them in Belarus."
Where do the news come from? Mediakritika.by portal has monitored the two state-owned TV-channels in Belarus and non-governmental Belsat to find out sources of their news. Liaison offices of government bodies, public relations departments, ideology deputies – are the ones shaping the key information occasions featured by the Belarusian TV-channels on a daily basis. News occasions created by government’s spokespeople are the basis of the news broadcasts aired by all three TV-channels during the monitoring week. Meanwhile, there were almost no exclusive news materials created by the channels’ journalists.
BISS-Timeline #4 (April 2013) – Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) presents its brief monthly review of the major social, economical, political and cultural events in Belarus. According to publication, environmental issues were high on the agenda for Belarusians recently. Majority of public initiatives in April related to the Chernobyl disaster and the construction of a new power plant in Astraviec. The experts describe also the landmark foreign policy events in April, note that overstocks remain a significant problem, predict no important innovations in the social sector in the coming months, and reveal further confrontation between official and unofficial culture.
Another publication of BISS, Belarus' Foreign Policy Index #13 (March-April 2013), presents the 13th issue of its regular report, which focuses on five foreign policy priorities of Belarus. In particular, the experts note that official Minsk has once again underlined its limited negotiability with Russia and the willingness to take the necessary decisions in exchange for significant economic concessions. Belarus' relations with the EU continued to develop rapidly and demonstrated an unprecedented number of diplomatic and political contacts on the high state level for the last years. Some results of the current Index were also discussed at the “Amplituda” TUT.BY program.
What kind of Health Reform does Belarus need? After a panel discussion on the possible upcoming health reform in Belarus, Liberal club has shared the key findings and experts’ advice on the issue. According to surveys and experts’ opinions, the key problems of medical industry are lack of effective financial models for hospitals and poor human resources management. The experts also discussed the opportunities and consequences of insurance-financed medicine.
The European Dialogue on Modernization: the Current Status and Development Problems – Centre for European Transformation prepared policy paper providing a rationale for the reorganisation of the EU initiative European Dialogue on Modernization. The author substantiates the necessity of the convention and coordination of the position of various subjects, which is to actually set the stage for modernization reforms in Belarus – so called conventional modernization is contra posed to authoritarian modernization as a possible way of reforming Belarus’ economy while the current political regime is preserved.
Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in April 2013 – Human Rights Centre Viasna presents its regular monitoring on the human rights situation in Belarus. In April, the experts notice consistently poor situation with a clear tendency to deteriorate. Namely, 11 political prisoners were still kept in jail. A dangerous trend in April was that KGB and the prosecutors' offices issued warnings to activists about the possible criminal punishment for activities on behalf of unregistered organizations.
The Way Belarusians Understand Civil Society is Puzzling – Ulad Vialichka, the chairman of the International Consortium "EuroBelarus", considers whether the notion of civil society is used correctly in Belarus and which countries’ experience can be most useful for Belarusian civil society. Vialichka assumes that Belarusian society still has an underdeveloped understanding of civil society that is connected with the fact that the processes of civil society formation that were going on in the early 90s were exposed to serious attacks afterwards.
International Reports on Belarus
First report of UN special rapporteur on Belarus. Miklos Haraszti, the UN Human Rights Council`s special rapporteur on Belarus, published his first report on the situation in Belarus. The report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights describes the main trends in the field of human rights in Belarus in the period 5 July 2012 – 31 March 2013 and emphasises the systematic violations of human rights in Belarus.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s second thematic report. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, published his second thematic report which draws particular attention to the ability of civil society to seek, protect and use financial resources from international and internal sources. The report also provides practical guidelines to facilitate the implementation of the freedom of peaceful assembly.
European Parliament adopted draft recommendation on EU policy towards Belarus. Justas Paleckis acted as the rapporteur of the document. The European Parliament addresses its recommendations to a number of the EU institutions which should “reiterate the need for the unconditional and immediate release and rehabilitation of the political and civic rights of all remaining political prisoners to be a prerequisite for a gradual lifting of EU restrictive measures and for a substantial upgrade in EU-Belarus relations”.
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.
White-Red-White Flag: The True Belarusian Symbol or a Sign of the Opposition?
Earlier this month the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) officially banned the White-Red-White flag and the heraldic symbol Pahonia from the 2013 Ice Hockey World Championship held in Sweden and Finland. Tony Wirehn, Secretary General of 2013 Ice Hockey World Championship, commented that the IHFF cannot allow supporters to use any political symbols and signs in areas where matches are played.
Until Lukashenka came to power the White-Red-White flag served as the official symbol of Belarus. Now the Belarusian diaspora and nearly all opposition parties in Belarus consider it as the only true flag of Belarus. In Belarus it is largely banned by the authorities and Belarusian sport officials put pressure on the organisers of international sport events to eliminate the former state symbols from the stands, to prevent spectators from seeing “opposition" symbols on TV.
Rada (Council) of Belarusian Peoples Republic, the most influential political organisation of the Belarusian diaspora, condemned the decision of the IIHF. Many figures in Belarusian Civil Society along with Swedish human rights activists and even the former Swedish ambassador in Belarus, Stefan Eriksson, have spoken out against the prohibition. They argued that Belarusians should be given a chance to use what they consider as national symbols.
A petition against the ban quickly collected over 3000 signatures. The petition argues that the IIHF "use political motives to prevent Belarusian supporters from using national symbols at the games of the championship. Ironically, the IIHF was also using the rationale of avoiding mixing politics and sports to ban the symbols.
Lukashenka vs the Flag
The White-Red-White flag and Pahonia have a long history. When Belarus became a separate state in 1918-1919 these were the official symbols of the Belarusian Peoples Republic until replaced by a Communist government. The Belarusian minority in Poland actively used these symbols during the inter-war period. During World War II they were also used by Belarusian organisations that collaborated with the Nazis who saw it as a chance to revive the Belarusian culture.
In 1991, when the country declared independence the flag and shield again became official symbols of Belarus. The draft law "On the State Flag of the Republic of Belarus" prepared by the Belarusian People’s Front faction in the Supreme Council of Belarus, the main national political force in the country at the end of 1980s and in the beginning of 1990s.
In 1995, to consolidate his power Lukashenka initiated a referendum. One of the objectives of the referendum was to change the state symbols which were associated with the national movement against the USSR at the end of the 1980s. Lukashenka promised to revive the Soviet Union and by changing the national symbols to those associated with Soviet Belarus, he gained a symbolic victory over the Belarusian Popular Front.
Lukashenka's main argument to change the White-Red-White flag and the Pahonia symbol was that during the World War II Belarusian organisations that collaborated with the Nazis had used them. Propaganda movies which followed this initiative compared the Belarusian Popular Front, the main pro-democracy opposition party, to fascists. According to Lukashenka's logic those who use White-Red-White flag are ideological followers of Nazi collaborators. The referendum took place with gross violations of democratic standards and in the atmosphere of massive state propaganda. Nonetheless, the symbols were changed.
The Symbol of Freedom
Today most of the organisations of the Belarusian diaspora and Belarusian opposition refuse to use the official Red-Green flag and represent their country with White-Red-White flag. In late of 1990s and 2000s as Lukashenka's political regime consolidated its power, the White-Red-White flag became more than a banned national symbol but also a sign of struggle against authoritarianism.
most of the organisations of the Belarusian diaspora and Belarusian opposition refuse to use the official Red-Green flag and represent their country with White-Red-White flag Read more
The current Red-Green official flag refers to the Soviet past of Belarus and corresponds to official historiography and state ideology praising the Soviet period. While the White-Red-White flag symbolises a brief democratic period of 1990s as well as an anti-Soviet tradition of Belarusian national revival it clearly confronts the official interpretation of the Belarusian history.
Not surprising that Belarusian authorities do not tolerate the former state symbols. It is strictly prohibited to fly the White-Red-White flag at sports events in Belarus and scores of democratic activists have been imprisoned for displaying the flag in public.
An illustration of this is the case of Siarhei Kavalenka. In January 2010, he placed a White-Red-White flag on the top of the Christmas tree in the centre of Vitebsk for which a criminal court sentenced him to a three year suspended sentence. In 2011, police arrested Kavalenka again, this time on the basis of violating the conditions of the suspended sentence, he was sentenced to 25 months in prison.
Using White-Red-White flag at Sport Events Abroad
Belarusian sports officials often try to put pressure on the organisers of international sport events to remove White-Red-White flags from the stands. The recent ban at the Ice Hockey World Championship is not an isolated case.
In 2011, the former Belarusian official flag was banned from FIBA EuroBasket Women's matches in Poland. Security searched for and removed fans with White-Red-White flags from the stands during the match Belarus played against Lithuania.
In October 2010 at the match of UEFA Europa League FC Dynamo Minsk played against Club Brugge K.V. in Belgium several fans supported Belarusian team with White-Red-White flag. An unknown man, introducing himself as a person “in charge of the Belarusian fans”, was trying aggressively to take away the flag from Belarusian supporters.
A similar story took place in Moldova at a match where FC BATE Barysau played against FC Sheriff Tiraspol — fans with White-Red-White flags and Red-Green flags started a fight with each other during the game. This resulted in the arrest of 15 people.
Many sports fans persist in supporting Belarusian athletes in international competitions using the White-Red-White flag, which in most cases the organisers tolerate. This irritates the Belarusian government: to them this symbolises not the country where they come from but the political opposition which they cannot tolerate.
Many Belarusians will continue taking the risk of using what they regard as their true national symbols. They cherish a rare sense of freedom and self-expression unavailable at sports events back home.