Education event in Minsk, call for London conference, Belsat, Astraviec NPP – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In December, analysts of the Ostrogorski Centre discussed Belarus' vote at the UN General Assembly, ongoing tension between Belarus and Lithuania over the Astraviec NPP, and the situation of Belsat TV.
On 13 December the Ostrogorski Centre and the Embassies of the Netherlands and Poland organised a conference on education as a human right in Minsk.
The Ostrogorski Centre, the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum announced a Call for Papers for the conference ‘Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century’.
The 4th Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference: Education As A Human Right
On 13 December 2016 Minsk hosted the 4th Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference. This year, the topic was: 'Education as a Human Right: Modernising Higher Education to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century'. The conference was organised by the Ostrogorski Centre in cooperation with the Embassies of the Netherlands and Poland.
As with other conferences co-organised by the Ostrogorski Centre, it brought together people with different views and backgrounds to engage in respectful dialogue. The speakers included representatives of educational institutions from the Netherlands, Poland, and Belarus, as well as Belarusian government agencies and NGOs.
The event focused on three key topics: the challenges of Belarus's accession to the European Higher Education Area, improving business education, and making education more accessible through distance education.
Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century: a Call for Papers
The Ostrogorski Centre, the University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies (UCL SSEES), and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum is calling for proposals from established academics and doctoral researchers for individual papers and panel discussions on various aspects of contemporary Belarusian studies.
The conference will take place on 25 February 2017, at UCL SSEES. On 27 February, a special event will be hosted by the British Library organised in cooperation with the National Library of Belarus and the Belarusian Embassy in London to celebrate the anniversary of Skaryna’s Bible.
The 2017 conference will coincide with the 500th anniversary of the first Bible written in old Belarusian. Francis Skaryna’s translation of the Bible, published in Prague in 1517-1519, was the first printed book in the whole of Eastern and Southern Europe and carries immense significance for Belarusian identity. Submissions devoted to Skaryna’s legacy are particularly welcome this year.
Submissions are requested by 10 January 2017, more information can be found here.
A Belarus Digest editorial argues that supporting Belsat is in the real interest of Warsaw and Minsk. The Polish Foreign Ministry has recently announced that it is considering closing down Belsat, the only Belarusian language channel available online and via satellite across central Europe. Without the active pro-democracy and pro-independence minority in Belarus, which is sustained partially by Belsat, the prospect of Belarus being entirely swallowed up by the Russian world could become even more real.
Ryhor Astapienia discusses whether Belarus can punish Lithuania for its position on the Astraviec NPP. Belarusian officials have hinted several times that Lithuania benefits significantly from the transit of Belarusian goods, so the Lithuanian government should soften its position on Astraviec. Nevertheless, it seems that Belarus will continue to use Lithuania as a transit country – this remains an economically expedient option. Nevertheless, it will also try to diversify supplies.
Igar Gubarevich analyses Belarus's vote at the UN General Assembly. It shows that Minsk pursues a much more independent foreign policy than most observers believe. The positions of Minsk and Moscow differ in almost a quarter of all issues. At the same time, the Belarusian government does not cross certain red lines defined by the Kremlin. The Belarusian delegation would never vote for a resolution condemning the Russian government.
Comments in the media
Igar Gubarevich analyses the three main obstacles to Belarusian-Polish relations improving on Polish radio: delay of local border traffic, the schism of the Polish minority in Belarus, and the Card of the Pole.
Also on Polish radio, Ryhor Astapenia comments on the revival of Polish-Belarusian relations. According to Ryhor, a dominant view in Belarus, Russia, and Poland is that through rapprochement with Poland, Minsk is trying to strengthen its western flank in foreign policy. In doing so, Belarus wants to demonstrate independence in decision-making.
On Polish radio, Igar Gubarevich analyses the visit of a high-level EU delegation to Minsk. According to Igar, the two sides currently maintain a comprehensive institutional dialogue, but true normalisation of relations has yet to occur, as evidenced by the lack of highest-level visits. At the moment, Belarus and the EU are seeking points of contact, putting aside issues of human rights and democracy.
Siarhei Bohdan discusses Belarus's border policy on Polish radio. The situation on the southern border of Belarus remains at risk of arms penetration and crime, but in two or three years the entire southern border will be closed with the help of EU funds. Meanwhile, Russia closed its border with Belarus for citizens of third countries for purely political reasons, as a punishment for Belarus, Siarhei argues.
The BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following people: Valier Malaška, Natallia Nikandrava, Dzmitry Krupski, Aliaksandr Makajeŭ, Uladzimir Karahin, Vasiĺ Hierasimaŭ, Anatoĺ Isačenka, Andrej Žyškievič, Andrej Dzierach, Voĺha Ščerbina,
We have also updated the profiles of Ihar Karpienka, Aliena Kupčyna, Aliaksandr Kosiniec, Vadzim Hihin, Aliaksandr Milinkievič, Aliaksandr Lahviniec, Anatoĺ Husaraŭ, Lieanid Šeniec, Eduard Paĺčys, Ivan Liemiašeŭski, Viktar Ščaćko, Natallia Kačanava, Maksim Ryžankoŭ, Kanstancin Martyniecki, Juryj Čyž.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update the database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
Andrei Yahorau, Aliona Zuikova. The role and place of civil society in the system of donor aid for Belarus (2006-2014). CET, 2016.
Aliaksandr Chubryk. KEF-2016 "Reforms for engaging growth": key findings and recommendations. IPM Research Centre, 2016.
Dzmitry Kruk, Katsiaryna Barnukova. The anatomy of recession in Belarus. BEROC, 2016.
Alena Artsiomenka. Factors of reproductive choice of Belarusians. BISS, 2016.
Uladzimir Akulich, Yulia Yafimnenka, Viktoryia Smalenskaya, Uladzislau Ramaniuk, Alieś Aliachnovič, Sierž Naŭrodski, Katsiaryna Alieksiatovich, Yaraslau Mialhui. The seventh issue of the Macroeconomic Review of Belarus (January-September 2016). CASE Belarus, 2016.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by completing this form.
The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com, BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.
Advocacy crowdfunding in Belarus: the best projects of 2016
On 15 December, the best Belarusian crowdfunded projects of 2016 received awards in Minsk. 15 finalists received funding totaling $19,500. Crowdfunding has become one of the simplest and most accessible forms of civic participation. In a nondemocratic environment, crowdfunding is one of the safest ways of practising social activism.
The best Belarusian campaigns of 2016 were mainly related to social and cultural issues, whereas few projects considered human rights or the environment. The relative unpopularity of such themes can be explained by potential conflict with state interests.
Crowdfunding as a resource for advocacy in Belarus
Crowdfunding is often referred to as a new form of civic participation. According to statistics, in 2014 the world crowdfunding market came to $16bn, while in 2015 the number was more than $34bn. However, in Belarus even traditional forms of civic participation struggle to engage the wider public. The small number of NGOs, passive engagement in public hearings, and a low level of public awareness are all symptoms of the passive and non-participatory nature of Belarusian civil society.
Nevertheless, in 2016 Belarusians demonstrated an unprecedentedly high level of civic participation through crowdfunding. Currently, several platforms help finance crowdfunded projects in Belarus: Talakosht, Ulej, and Maesens. The first two platforms, Talakosht and Ulej, allow users to create a project online and offers non-material support. Maesens suggests collecting money specifically for social projects by offering an auction of meetings.
In addition, Maesens organises an annual contest called 'Social Weekend', in which citizens and experts choose the best projects for financial support. 15 finalists of the 2016 'Social Weekend' received funding from Maesens, while most of the other 40 projects received money through crowdfunding.
The most popular genre of projects on Talakosht, Ulej and Maesens are humanitarian, cultural,å and publishing projects. Examples of notable projects on Talashkot include a translation of The Chronicles of Narnia and a fundraiser for Belarusian athlete Vital Hurkou. Other recent campaigns have included a fundraiser for Nasha Niva investigations and Christmas gifts for Belarusian orphans.
The most successful projects manage to combine crowdfunding with other advocacy tools. Imena magazine, the Swamps Protection Campaign, and the Adnak festival of Belarusian advertising are particularly noteworthy examples.
Charity, Swamps, and a Belarusian Advertising Festival
The largest and most successful crowdfunding campaign of the year has been a project called Imena (Names). The format of the magazine is unique to Belarus. Besides covering personal stories, the magazine offers readers the option of supporting groups in need. Imena also allows visitors to its website to create their own projects and organise fundraising campaigns. The project raised more than $21,000 for the magazine itself and $35,000 to support seriously ill children.
The founder Katsiaryna Seniuk was named 'person of the year' for stimulating Belarusians to participate more actively in society. Seniuk highlights the importance of motivating Belarusians to act and participate rather than just being aware of problems. The project has proved that Belarusian society can change and mobilise to provide essential support for groups in need. On 23 December the Assembly of Belarusian NGOs named the magazine the best media project of the year.
An older but equally successful advocacy project aims to protect Belarusian swamps. The In Defence of Belarusian Swamps campaign emerged as a project to inform Belarusians about the importance of wetlands. The organisers collected signatures and signed appeals to the local authorities in the regions where wetlands are most endangered.
In many cases, the authorities overturned decisions to drain swamps. This year, the project used crowdfunding to gather money to support the creation of a guide to Belarusian swamps. The campaign was also able to persuade authorities to adopt a strategy for conservation and sustainable use of peatlands.
A final example is a campaign for the Adnak Belarusian advertisement festival. Over the last 7 years, the operation of the festival has depended on sponsors. However, this year's campaign to promote Belarusian language and culture through advertising garnered additional material support via crowdfunding platforms. According to ulej.by, the Adnak campaign is one of the most successfully implemented projects, collecting more than $7,000 over a short period.
The organisers encouraged those interested to actively participate through fundraising. Nina Shydlouskaya, the head of the project, reports that the majority of the campaign's goals have been achieved. The campaign was the second most popular crowdfunded project at Ulej in 2016.
The Less Political, the More to Successful
Crowdfunding has become a significant part of civic activism in Belarus. With the development of technology, crowdfunding is growing as a resource and tool for advocacy in the world. In 2016, Belarus saw a significant increase in social participation via material support for projects spread on the Internet.
Top 10 projects at crowdfunding platforms, the best projects on Maesens, and Imena magazine demonstrate that the most successful projects in Belarus in 2016 are humanitarian, cultural and publishing projects. Some experienced advocacy campaigns, such as Budzma or In Defense of Belarusian Swamps employed crowdfunding as a new resource and were able to receive the financial support they required.
It seems that only projects with a low-level of politicisation can be successful in Belarus: advocacy and crowdfunding practises indicate that non-political projects received the most support in 2016. At the same time, neither Ulej, Talakosht, Maesens, or other platforms hosted projects promoting human rights defence, energy, or other topics which could possibly clash with the state’s interests. In a non-democratic environment, projects with a high degree of politicisation have only a small chance of survival.
Despite the increase in civic activism in Belarus during 2016, it is hard to picture how projects with politicised goals, such as Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty or the Antinuclear Campaign could achieve significant results. However, crowdfunding has allowed many Belarusian to safely participate in the civic life of the country by funding important and problematic projects while remaining anonymous.