Election Prediction Contest, Non-Formal Education, Vyshyvanka Day – Civil Society Digest
The Movement for Freedom invites to take part in an election prediction contest.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists can be admitted to the state-organised Supervisory Council on the media during the parliamentary elections. VI Festival of Non-Formal Education took place in Minsk.
Freedom Square to be filled: with classical music fans next eight Saturdays organised by Fund of Ideas. The first ever official Vyshyvanka Day is held in Minsk.
The UN Human Rights Council renewed the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur to Belarus. Amnesty International reports that activists in Belarus are subject to unchecked government surveillance.
The Movement for Freedom invites to take part in an election prediction contest designed to mock the coming elections for the parliament. After the candidate registration stage, people will be able to go to www.2016.pyx.byand check the names of the candidates-winners of September's elections. In such a way, the opposition calls for sharing a laugh over the electoral farce and expressing protest against the existing system of appointing parliament members. According to BelaPAN NEWS mail out
Registration of nomination groups was more democratic. The campaign Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections reports that the process of registration of nomination groups (initiative groups) of candidates for the House of Representatives was more democratic than that during the previous election campaign. The vast majority of groups of opposition candidates were registered. Parliamentary elections will be held in Belarus on September 11.
BAJ can be admitted to take part in the Supervisory Council on the Media during Parliamentary elections. This was stated by the Central Electoral Commission's secretary Mikalaj Lazavik, responding to the related Belarusian Association of Journalists' appeal. The Supervisory Council on the Media is designed to enforce observance of media law and procedures of political agitation during elections.
ECLAB recruits students for 2016-2017. In a new academic year, European College of Liberal Arts in Belarus (ECLAB) offers an additional education in such areas as modern society, ethics and politics, popular culture and media, etc. ECLAB is created as an informal alternative to the system of higher education existing in Belarus, which inherited a range of shortcomings from the Soviet epoch.
VI Festival of Non-Formal Education was held in Minsk. The Festival was held on July 7-9 and traditionally served as a platform for professional interaction of non-formal education’s providers. The opening ceremony gathered around 300 Belarusian and foreign participants; welcome speeches were delivered by EU Delegation, Education Ministry, IBB Center and others. The program included over 60 different events, including expert panels, workshops, master classes, and exhibitions.
The UN Human Rights Council renewed the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur to Belarus. The resolution adopted on June 30, at the session on Geneva, raises a wide range of human rights violations committed in the country and highlights the need to continue monitoring the behaviour of the Belarusian government.
Activists in Belarus are subject to unchecked government surveillance with no independent oversight. In its report, published on July 7, Amnesty International documents that the Belarusian government uses telecoms companies to facilitate surveillance by demanding direct, remote-control access to customer communications and data. Against the background of an already restrictive legal environment, this creates a chilling effect that forces activists out of public life.
Civil society initiatives
Mediakritika.by joins the campaign against the hate speech. A Belarusian media watchdog MediaKritika launches a series of cartoons "Stop Hate Speech" to talk how the hate speech emerges, and why even a mild form of it could have a serious impact. The first visual story is available on the MediaKritika YouTube channel.
Mini-forum on the development of social entrepreneurship in rural areas will be held on August 10, near Minsk. The forum is to analyse the state of individual initiatives in villages and offer proposals for the development of social entrepreneurship there. Organiser – Social Business Technology CSO – invites to participation organisations and experts interested in the development of entrepreneurial activity in rural areas and solving social problems.
New gender-responsive program for local activists. The Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) launched an educational program We Decide Together designed for community activists who are willing to promote the interests of women and vulnerable groups as a part of a local community. On July 9-10, the first group session was held. OEEC also released a summing up video on its Leadership in Local Communities program ended in June.
Belarusian Thinking Week. On September 19-25, the Belarusian Thinking Week will take place in Belarus and aims to present a variety of manifestations of today’s Belarusian thinking. The organisers – EuroBelarus, Flying University, Budzma campaign, Mova Nanovacourses, and others – invite CSOs, research and cultural initiatives, business companies, and individuals to participate in the developing and implementing of The Week.
Interaction between state and civil society
Eight Saturdays with classic music. Jazz at the Minsk City Hall is replaced on classical music – this year's festival Classics in the Town Hall is spread over eight Saturdays – from July 9 to August 27. The open-air concert platform will host six orchestras. The tradition of holding public free concerts in the heart of Minsk was founded by Fond of Ideas four years ago and now picked up by other actors.
Presentation on the motivation of civil servants was held by SYMPA/BIPART on 1 July. The study covers 300 people and shows that the motivation of central authorities, local officials and employees of state organisations differ. Among the most effective tools for motivating are career advancement, financial motivation, and increasing personal responsibility.
First official Vyshyvanka Day in Minsk. The first ever Vyshyvanka Day/Embroidery Day event was conducted on July 2 at the state level by the Culture Ministry of Belarus and a pro-governmental youth BRSM. The celebrations combined an art parade, exhibition fair, fashion show, knights' fights, etc. The government plans to make the festival Vyshyvanka Day a new tradition – in the run-up to the Belarus’ Independence Day.
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.
Holocaust Discourse Raises Controversy in Belarus
During her speech on 12 June 2016 in New York, Belarusian Nobel laureate in literature Sviatlana Alexievich criticised Poles for actively murdering Jews during World War II.
The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately reacted with a protest note demanding explanation and an apology from Alexievich. Sviatlana Alexievich had to elaborate on her position in an interview with a Polish journalist later. In the meantime Belarusian bloggers and journalists condemned her words.
On 8 July 2016 vandals poured paint on the "The Pit", a memorial sculptural complex devoted to the liquidated inhabitants of the Minsk ghetto. This issue was not widely reported by the Belarusian media and was ignored by the state as well.
This was the first time people desecrated the Holocaust memorial in central Minsk in years. However, it reflects the problematic nature of memory politics in Belarus. It also shows that the Belarusian public remains unprepared to fully reflect on the Holocaust and would rather speak out when the discussion focuses on neighbouring countries.
Memory of the Holocaust in independent Belarus
Traditionally marginalised and suppressed in the Soviet Union, Holocaust discourse had a chance to emerge in independent Belarus.
However, in the early 1990s Belarusians seemed too preoccupied with their own identity, economic problems, and nation and state building to begin discussing the Holocaust. Belarusian historians were busy trying to research and fill the numerous blank pages in Belarusian national history. Politicians were involved in political and economic problems accompanying Belarus’s transition to an independent state.
History textbooks for schools and universities provided little information about the Holocaust, and scholars had other. The authorities did not speak much about that episode of Belarusian history despite the revival of the Great Patriotic War cult in the official ideology following the election of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
The politics of memory under Lukashenka
Lukashenka made the Great Patriotic War one of the key elements of the state ideology. Two of the main official holidays in Belarus commemorate the Great Patriotic War – Victory Day and Independence Day. The Independence Day celebrations changed from the day Belarus became independent from the USSR (27th of July) to the day Minsk was liberated (3rd of July) as a result of a referendum in 1996.
A subject called “The History of the Great Patriotic War” entered syllabuses at all universities in 2005 following Lukashenka’s order. The same year, the authorities opened "Stalin's Line," a historical-cultural complex “to become a symbol of a heroic struggle of the Soviet people against German-fascist invaders,” as the complex’s web-site states.
The Holocaust was practically excluded from the new politics of memory in Belarus. The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Jews on Belarusian territory by Nazis and their collaborators – often local – is muted during official speeches by the president on Victory and Independents Days.
This topic has still not entered mainstream public discourse, although some positive steps have been taken, including the erection of bronze statues at “The Pit” memorial in 2000. "The Pit" was initially founded in 1967 and was first visited by Lukashenka in 2008.
The erection of 45 new Holocaust memorials between 2005 and 2010 and the participation of Belarusian officials in the 65th and 70th anniversaries of the liquidation of the Minsk ghetto also mark an improvement in Holocaust memory politics in Belarus.
However, guring his presidency Lukashenka afforded himself being derogatory when speaking about Jews. One of the latest incidents was in April 2016 when the Belarusian president publicly asked the then Head of Hrodna region Siamion Shapira “to take all Jews under [Shapira’s] control”. This request stemmed from the fact that tut.by, an independent news portal owned by the Jewish Yury Ziser, published articles criticising a new law “on social parasites."
Lukashenka later explained that the year before Shapira had been asked to take control over Jews in Belarus, but Ziser's independent behaviour was not acceptable to the Belarusian president. Later Shapira said that this situation was not insulting to him although many other Belarusian Jews and Belarusians expressed their dissatisfaction with Lukashenka’s words.
The prospects of Holocaust discourse
Overall, the problem of silence surrounding the Holocaust in memory politics remains relevant in Belarus both on official and unofficial levels. Both the Belarusian state and the Belarusian public are very much distanced from that part of their history due to current historical discourse. Anti-Jewish clichés occasionally are articulated even on the official level since Soviet Union times.
Belarusians seem to be unready and unwilling to uncover the dark sides of their past. The fact that the Jewish population in Belarus decreases with each census means that it it unlikely that local Jews will force Belarusians to answer uncomfortable questions about the Holocaust.
At present, writer and Nobel Prize winner Sviatlana Alexievich is one of very few Belarusians willing to publicly discuss the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Her intellectual status and popularity might finally attract some public attention to historical memory problems in Belarus.
However, Belarusians appear to be more eager to discuss Alexievich’s words regarding Polish attitudes towards Jews during World War II in her New York speech than to pay attention to her interview with The Voice of America four days later.
The writer named the liquidation of the Jews in Belarus during the WWII as one of the reasons for the lack of elites in Belarus today. In her opinion this is also to blame for the longevity of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s rule.