Do Well-Situated Belarusians Need European Values? – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Do well-situated people need European Values? Does the new Russian foreign policy doctrine prompt changes in Minsk to turn to the West? Analysts also examine if there are any pro-Western trends in foreign policy and society.
Belarusian experts discuss whether the Western Partnership has potential and the recent indicators in the economy. Mediakritika’s survey reveals Belsat is not far ahead of state-run channels by international journalism standards.
The Main Character – Authorities – Mediakritika.by presents a content analysis of three Belarusian TV channels (two state run channels and the Warsaw-based Belsat) for the last six months of 2012. The survey noted that the main newsmaker for both public and independent channels remains the authorities – national or local, while the Belarusian opposition had almost no coverage.
Moreover, all channels were far from meeting basic professional standards – separation of facts from opinion, standards of completeness, and reliability and accuracy of presenting information.
Does Belarusian IT Programmer Need European Values? – Dmitry Galko of the online magazine New Europe discusses why the high income of the IT community does not guarantee the ideological shift to the active rejection of the current political system. The expert believes that satisfaction with personal situation wins out, and highly paid groups prefer to maintain the status quo.
Media in Belarus – 2012. Final Analytical Review – BAJ issued a final report of the media situation in Belarus in 2012. The main conclusion is that the media situation in Belarus during 2012 changed together with the socio-political situation. A critical point of the year was the three criminal cases against journalists in summer 2012.
Oleg Manaev: We Have to Distinguish Serious Sociology from Boloney – on 8 February, Professor Oleg Manaev conducted a public lecture titled The Future of Belarus as a projection of the current under the cycle Urbi et Orbi, the Flying University. On the eve of the lecture, TUT.by journalist talked to Manaev about possible scenarios of the future of Belarus and sociology in Belarus.
Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in January 2013 – The Human Rights Centre Viasna issued its monthly thematic review. The experts note that the first month of the year brought no changes in the human rights situation. 12 political prisoners remained in jail, and the persecution and pressure on public and political activists, human rights defenders and independent media continued.
Freedom of Associations in Belarus in 2012 – the Assembly of Democratic NGOs and the Legal Transformation Center released the annual review of freedom of associations and the legal status of non-profit organizations in Belarus for 2012. The paper highlights the most important trends and developments related to the legal conditions of different forms of civil society organizations.
Integration Is Given a Boost – Grigory Ioffe observes that while Minsk has been recently trying its best to revive its relationships with the West, reciprocal steps have not yet been undertaken by the Western countries and international structures. In contrast, the analyst lists a number of recent success stories which show that Russia has been energetically and conspicuously acting to tighten its bonds with Belarus.
Lukashenka Gave the KGB Special Mission to the West? – Alexander Klaskovsky, naviny.by, focuses on the foreign policy of Belarus: the Belarusian president again demonstratively shows interest in the Western direction, in that time he had just returned from Sochi, where he waited in vain for over a week, for Vladimir Putin. BISS analyst, Denis Melyantsou believes that in this way Lukashenka again starts to shake geopolitical swings to impress the official Moscow; although PR moves may follow real steps towards unlocking relations with Brussels and Washington.
New Russian Foreign Policy Doctrine – Dzianis MIliantsou, BISS, breaks down the new Russian Foreign Policy Doctrine, signed in February by Vladimir Putin. According to the analyst, Belarus is losing its exclusive status of Russian ally, while the doctrine demonstrates Russia’s willingness for constructive cooperation with the West.
Can the Eastern Partnership Work? – Jana Kobzova notes that the EU has been promoting its interests in Eastern Europe by exporting its values and building more political and business links with the region, but the strategy has thus far not worked to the EU’s liking. To make the Eastern Partnership an initiative worthy of its name, the EU should continue to promote both its interests and values in its Eastern neighbourhood, but it also needs to invest much more in cultivating new partners in the region.
Policy Brief: National Security, January 2013 – Belarus Security Blog issued its monthly review of national security of the country. The authors observe that the first month of the year has not brought significant changes. The previous threats to the sustainability of Belarusian state remain: the poor quality of public administration, human resources crisis in the government, the negative trends of foreign trade, limited funding of national security and defense, etc.
Western Vector of the Belarusian Foreign Policy – Alexander Shpakouski, Analytical Center for Conservative Concepts, observes that since the appointment of Vladimir Makey to a post of the head of foreign policy department there is a noticeable intensification of contacts with the West countries, first of all with the EU and the USA. The expert believes that in such situation pressure and imposing of unilateral understanding are unacceptable, but joint movement in the direction of creation social and fair, democratic world way is necessary.
A Potential Rapprochement with the West and the Prospects of Economic Liberalization – Grigory Ioffe notes that Belarus’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has generated a flurry of activity on the country’s western flank. Reviewing the recent trends, the expert cautions that there is still a great deal of harmony between Belarus’s political regime and many ordinary Belarusians. Western attempts to base its relationships with post-Soviet countries on a putative community of values have apparently exhausted their potential.
On the Fantastic Figures of Labor Migration – Andrei Eliseev of BISS, questions whether the number of Belarusian migrants of 1,3 million people, voiced by some experts, is realistic. Using simple math and available official statistics data, Eliseev shows exaggeration of these numbers and promises to devote his next paper to the issue of real numbers of Belarusian labor migrants. The article is posted in the section Blogs analysts on the updated BISS website.
Economicus Obcuricus: Economic Results of Belarus in 2012 – Anton Boltochko, Liberal Club, analyzes the economic policy of Belarus in 2012 with the ranking of economic victories and defeats. The expert says that every victory allowed maintaining the relative stability of the entire system. In particular, euphoria, caused by exports of solvents / thinners / biofuels, prevented the officials to focus on reforming the economic system after the crisis 2011.
Belarusian Monthly Economic Review, February 2013 – the IPM Research Center has released February issue of its monthly review which covers recent developments in political and economic life of the country. Namely in January, Belarusian Potash Company – an exclusive distributor of Belaruskali and Uralkali – signed a new contract on supply of 1 m tones of potash fertilizers at a price of 400 USD/t to China. This is 70 USD/t lower than a price of a previous contract with China. In general, this event might stipulate a number of negative outcomes.
Lessons From the 2011 Belarusian Devaluation – The paper shows that the currency crisis and inflation of 2011 rapidly decreased the level of well-being of the Belarusian society. The state tried to cushion the crisis effects but their policies had a very limited effect. Mechanism of index of prices appeared to protect the poorest social groups in Belarus from the currency crisis effects. However, the group of pensioners seemed to be the most harmed by the politics of the state.
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.
Sheiman: The Last Soldier of President Lukashenka
Last month Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka appointed Viktar Sheiman as head of the President's Property Administration, the biggest state-owned business empire and the financial backbone of Lukashenka's regime. Barely any other officials of the Belarusian regime are demonised by its opponents as much as General Viktar Sheiman.
Most media and oppositional politicians ascribe his involvement in every alleged nasty doing of the ruling clique and call him the grey eminence of the regime. But some opposition activists remember him from early 1990s and cannot grasp that this can be the same person they knew back then.
Like most of Lukashenka's men, he had no hopes of making it very high up in the Soviet system as he was quite ordinary until he joined forces with Lukashenka. And still it has been this very man: a paratrooper from a provincial garrison who together with the Belarusian ruler has created today's Belarus.
Viktar Sheiman (54) was born in a village in a remote rural district on the border with Lithuania, the only one in Belarus dominated by an ethnic minority – the Voranava. With such a humble background he managed to enter only a military school in the deeply provincial Soviet Far East called Blagoveshchensk Tank Command High School. He graduated in 1979 as Soviet troops began campaign in Afghanistan. Sheiman went to that war as an officer of Soviet Airborne Troops, the most intensively deployed group of Soviet forces during the conflict.
By 1990, he became a major and luckily got an assignment to a garrison in his native Belarus. Perestroika was already succeeding and Sheiman joined the political struggle. He got elected to the then vibrant parliament of Soviet Belarus and took part in establishing a nationalistic Belarusian Alliance of Soldiers (BZV).
Former colleagues which remain in the opposition remember him as a sincere patriot, openly supportive of the Belarusian language and national symbols abolished later by Lukashenka.
Siarhei Navumchyk of the Christian Conservative Party of Belarusian People's Front recalls Sheiman in positive terms as an open minded and pleasant man. Have the games of power with Lukashenka destroyed him, wondered recently Navumchyk speaking on the Radio of Liberty?
Throwing in his Lot with Lukashenka
In post-Soviet Belarus, however, the military was clearly a bad place to make a career. For a while, Sheiman worked in parliament where he befriended many current opponents of Lukashenka and was elected as the secretary of the parliamentary Commission on National Security, Defence and Crime Control. In addition to this he studied law. His time came in 1994. That year he joined the ambitious team of the future Belarusian president.
A young decorated veteran with political experience was a valuable asset to Lukashenka who built his election campaign by fiercely attacking ruling Soviet nomenclatura elites. A director of a collective farm, Lukashenka was despised by most professionals, and as a result, he initially had few qualified people in his team. In August 1994, as soon as Lukashenka won the presidential election, he appointed Sheiman to a top position: State Secretary of the newly formed Security Council of Belarus.
Many members of Lukashenka's team very soon fell out with him. But not Sheiman. He firmly stood behind the boss. In December 1995, as Lukashenka embarked on his struggle to weaken and dissolve the parliament and ultimately establish an authoritarian regime, he appointed Sheiman to lead the key Ministry of the Interior.
They won the fight together by crushing street protests, organising a constitutional coup d'etat and destroying any meaningful opposition in the late 1990s. The stern-looking former paratrooper Sheiman, who never gave interviews, did his best to create the sterile political landscape of today's Belarus.
On the other hand, Lukashenka's men in these years successfully struggled not only with political opponents but also with criminality. Contrary to Russia with her terrible criminal chaos of 1990s, in Belarus criminal activity was reined in very quickly.
Working under the unscrupulous president, Sheiman helped to revive again all security agencies – police, special services and the military – severely battered and effectively paralysed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In November 2000, Lukashenka moved him to the office of Prosecutor General where Sheiman worked for the next four years. Those were the fat years of the regime which already had given up the plans of conquering Kremlin but still had generous Russian subsidies. In 2004-2006, Sheiman held another key office – Head of the Administration of the President – probably the most important power centre of the Belarusian regime.
He then apparently left the political frontline and is said to have switched to conducting murky deals. In 2006, he was again appointed the secretary of the Security Council only to be sacked after being accused of negligence after the July 2008 bombings in Minsk.
Yet Sheiman was too useful to be forgotten and in January 2009 he was appointed assistant to the President for Special Tasks. That was a very uncertain job – but it was not just honorary retirement, it was apparently an office to carry out tasks too sensitive to sort out through normal government channels. The general's comeback as a head of the President's Property Administration confirms his unfading relevance.
Sheiman has sacrificed for Lukashenka much more than most of other in president's retinue. It is Sheiman who was accused of involvement in the disappearance of three political opponents in 1999-2000. Since 2004, he has been banned from travelling to the US and EU – one of the first Belarusian officials to land on the list. He was one of the very few who were not even temporarily removed from it at the time of the warming up in relations between Belarus and the EU.
Furthermore, Sheiman has worked for the Belarusian regime in developing countries since the mid-1990s, for example going to Sudan as early as 1996 or 1997. He has been a very important figure in Belarusian relations with Venezuela from the late 2000s.
Because of his frequent visits to the third world, Sheiman is regularly accused of involvement in arms deals. A real scandal broke out around him in 2008 when the Spanish newspaper El Pais accused him of complicity in Venezuelan attempts to help Colombian guerrillas. The documents published, however, were too ambiguous to corroborate the charges and did not name Sheiman directly.
The Belarusian leader appreciates the faithfulness of his soldier. Lukashenka gave the Soviet-era major the highest military rank existing in Belarus: colonel general. Sheiman seems to enjoy such distinctions.
Recently he appeared publicly with an immense number of medals. Having a couple of real ones which he received in the Afghanistan war and from known special occasions (e.g. from the Venezuelan government), the general could have resisted adding to them dozens and dozens of doubtful decorations – affordable for everyone with some money.
Is He Really So Powerful?
Sheiman's career shows the new social mobility Lukashenka created to bring to the top people like himself. They are shrewd and not without talents but quite unscrupulous and sometimes narrow-minded. The general epitomises this group and to a certain extent the regime itself, alongside such regime officials as foreign minister Makey or head of Presidential administration Kabiakou.
On the other hand, many other top bureaucrats only serve the regime yet, very likely, they do not consider it as their own. Prime Minister Myasnikovich seems to represent this group.
Lukashenka needs them all. He is as opportunist in domestic as he is in foreign policy. He has never stuck to any political line and has never given all the power to any single group, and Sheiman is an example of the uncertain fate of courtier-like Belarusian officials.
Presumably the powerful Sheiman had to accept a political setback and, of course, cannot be the grey eminence of the regime. Rather than being an independent politician, he is just one of the last soldiers remaining in Lukakshena's guard – a man to be deployed when and where necessary.