European Intercultural Festival, Superkot, European College of Liberal Arts – Belarus Civil Society Digest
European Intercultural Festival to be held on September 4-14 in Belarus. CES launches the European College of Liberal Arts.
4th Belarus Reality Check is to be held in Riga. CSO networks announce calls for small projects – National Youth Council RADA and Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs.
Belarusians are asked to invent and define a contemporary graphic symbol of unity of the Belarusians.
Festivals and Other Events
European Intercultural Festival 2014. On September 4-14, the European Intercultural Festival will take place in Minsk, Mahiliou, Hrodna and Brest. The main goal of friendly and creative team of CSOs in cooperation with diplomatic missions, media and other partners is to create for ten days the European atmosphere, as well as to provide sites for information and skills exchange in the field of culture and education.
The agenda is available here. The organizers are Office for a Democratic Belarus, Office for European Expertise and Communication, Fond of Ideas.
Eco-Cultural Festival in Minsk. The Minsk Gallery Ў, Ecodom NGO, Agro-Eco-Culture non-profit institution and Green Alliance invite to the annual Eco-Cultural Festival, which traditionally takes place in the Gallery Ў, on August 30. The program includes the closure of the exhibition Mutual Relationship, presentations, workshops, concerts, wine and organic products from the Belarusian farmers.
The 4th International Congress of Belarusian Studies presents a list of 15 thematic sections. The annual Congress will take place on 3-5 October 3-5, 2014, in Kaunas, Lithuania and aims to promote a deeper understanding of Belarus in academic and civil communities of the country, region and world. The organising committee has also announced a short list of the 2014 Congress Award for the best publication; the award ceremony will take place at the Congress.
4th Belarus Reality Check is to be organized on September 11, in Riga, Latvia. Western and Belarusian experts will discuss the latest developments in the Belarus' relations with U.S., EU and Russia as well as the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia is joining EESC and Pact to the organization of the event.
Initiatives for People with Disabilities
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is launching a new project on Improvement of the quality of work to protect the rights and legitimate interests of employees with disabilities. This project is implemented in cooperation with the independent trade union REP with the assistance of the branch of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Russia. Lawyers and representatives of trade union organizations will be trained to work on the field of protection the rights of employees with disabilities.
Eco-path for people with disabilities. A unique path of natural experiences for people with disabilities will appear soon in Grodno region. The path will be created by local initiative ‘Creating a barrier-free environmental education paths and places of recreation for families with children with disabilities’ within the USAID/UNDP project ‘Local entrepreneurship and economic development’. The initiative belongs to Sergei Vavilov who won one of 30 mini-grants. The Grodno authorities and CSOs also support the project.
Study visit on freedom of associations. The Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs and Legal Transformation Center Lawtrend invite to participate in a visit to Vilnius and Budapest to study the modern standards of freedom of associations and legal conditions of non-profit organizations. The program is open to representatives of all sectors – private, public, and commercial. The visit will take place in October; application deadline is September 12.
Center of European Studies is launching a new education project in Minsk – European College of Liberal Arts in Belarus (ECLAB). The main goal of ECLAB is to provide the Belarusian youth with an alternative program of humanitarian education that will contribute to Belarus integration into the common European space. At the very beginning ECLAB will function as a project of non-formal education. However, their next goal is to accredit college programs with the help of partner universities in the countries of the European Union.
Campaigns and Civil Initiatives
Charity shop KaliLaska will reopen if collects $5,000 donations. KaliLaska/You are Welcome is the first charity offline shop in Belarus. It opened in April 2013 and worked for 13 months. During this time the shop collected second hand clothes, shoes, books and transferred them to the vulnerable groups – in total, 12 tons of things and help for 13 charity organizations. To reopen – pay rent, repair and equipment – shop announces collecting donations.
Shelter Superkot spent all the money on the treatment of animals and now to be closed. The first non-state Minsk shelter for animals Superkot states his distress due to lack of money. Superkot was opened in Minsk about 5 years ago and existed solely on donations. Each year the shelter "parked" to 1 thousand cats.
Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs announces a competition of Small Deeds 2014. The project call is open for CSOs, which are members of the Assembly of NGOs, and have ideas that can strengthen civil society in Belarus. Priority is given to activities aimed at identifying active and value-motivated people for their involvement in the civil activity, conducting local and national public awareness campaigns, etc. The project budget shouldn't exceed $1,500. Applications are accepted up to September 30.
Let's Make It Better 2014 campaign initiated by the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs continues to extend its influence across Belarus via local CSOs. Utulny krai/Comfortable region initiative assisted residents of Groznovo village to appeal to local authorities; Baranovichi branch of TBM organized the Festival dedicated to the city historical founder; Zvyaz/Union youth CSO conducted the first amateur tournament backgammon in Orsha; Mova ci Kava/Language or Coffee initiative launches a campaign To teach others to speak Belarusian, etc. The campaign’s press releases are available here.
Symbol of national unity to be identified. The Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs with information support Art Siadzibaand Radio Svaboda offers Belarusians to invent and define a contemporary graphic symbol of unity of the Belarusians in the manifestation of their independent position. The suggestions from artists, designers, and all the interested are accepted until August 31.
Ibikeminsk invites to put the finishing point of the project. On August 30, Ibikeminsk brand that promotes the image of Minsk as a bike-friendly city, invites to participate in the cycling cruise in the spirit of the Soviet Union. The trip will go on from the main entrance to the Minsk Gorky Park to Pobedy Park. Those who are without a bicycle, can also be a participant of a bright show, taking part in the dance and master classes in Lindy Hop.
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.
The Fate of European Security Decided in Minsk, An Anti-Corruption Law – Belarus State TV Digest
Belarusian state TV provided extensive coverage of the negotiations in Minsk, calling them "constructive" and playing a decisive role in securing the safety of the whole of Europe.
Belarusians can now actively discuss a new anti-corruption law and express their views on the web site of “SB – Belarus Segodnya", a state-run daily newspaper.
State TV journalists also showed how European farmers have suffered serious damage as a result of the Russian sanctions on their food products. As a result, the number of opponents towards western sanctions grows daily.
Minsk – a platform for international dialogue. For first time in its history, Belarus hosted an international meeting involving high profile officials from the EU, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
“Minsk became a platform for a final attempt for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the east of Ukraine”, states the reporter. In his opinion, the gathering in Minsk would decide the fate of peace and security in the whole Europe.
Alexander Lukashenka declared Belarus' readiness to host any future rounds of negotiations. “Innocent people die, infrastructure is being destroyed, hundreds of thousands of refugees are forced to leave their native land (…) These are not scenes from the history, this is our reality today. Can we look upon what is happening today with indifference? Of course, we cannot”, he stated in his speech.
After the talks, Lukashenka speaks with the press. The Belarusian leader stated that the meeting was a successful step in the direction towards further talks. “The talks were not easy, but the dialogue was essential and open”, he told international journalists gathered in Minsk. Lukashenka also emphasised that all of the participants in the talks had a chance to express their point of view. Despite various positions, “all agreed on one thing: we should find a compromise”.
Lukashenka also noted the importance of the encounter between the two powerful economic blocs, i.e. the EU and Customs Union.
Initial media commentary on the summit in Minsk. “Observers, political scientists and journalists of the world's leading media outlets" agree that the talks in Minsk were difficult but constructive. “Minsk has a unique atmosphere that is conducive to constructive political and economic talks, something that is invaluable for international relations”, one reporter proudly stated.
It was also noted that the leaders focused on three key issues: peace, or at least an armistice, humanitarian aid, and energy-related issues – an agreement on gas supply and transit “to not let Ukraine and Europe freeze”, but also the economy – especially the possible losses the Customs Union member states may face as a result of the Association Agreement of Ukraine with the EU.
Further Russian humanitarian aid. One report took note of Moscow's plan to send another convoy of humanitarian aid to people living in the Donbas. Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, informed the media of Russia sending the appropriate official notice to the authorities in Kyiv.
UN Under-General-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, also argued for more aid, including medication and food, to the eastern Ukraine. She also called on all sides in the conflict to not politicise the issue of humanitarian aid, one Belarus state TV journalist added.
Belarus-Poland relations. The Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs set to travel to Warsaw on a two-day visit. He will meet with Polish officials, including Radoslaw Sikorski, the head of Polish diplomacy. The officials will be discussing issues of “interest to both sides” – the report stated, but did not, however, provide any further details about the visit.
European farmers suffer serious loses due to Russian sanctions. Farmers are struggling with a “catastrophic decrease in demand” for their agricultural goods. Thus, a number of opponents of the “economic confrontation” between the EU and Russian steadly increases on a day to day basis. Producers count their losses and feel that the EU's sanctions towards Russia are ineffective, states the report.
Explaining the context of the ongoing exchange of sanctions, the state TV reporter states that the EU and US imposed sectoral sanctions on Russia, and Moscow reacted with a “boycott of their food products”. This subsequently brought about the losses being experienced by European farmers presently.
State TV's coverage of the issue also pointed out that not everybody supports the politics of sanctions. The Swiss Minister of Economy, Johann Schneider-Ammann, criticised the idea of imposing mutual sanctions and argued how it would negatively affect both sides.
Belarus-Ukraine mutual trade. State TV reported that beginning 19 August both Belarus and Ukraine lifted previously imposed barriers on mutual trade. At the same time, according to the coverage, Belarus must protect the Russian market from illegal exports through its territory of products from countries that Russia has sanctioned.
Belarusians free to discuss new anti-corruption draft law. The Belarusian leader says Belarusian society should join in discussions on the proposed amendments to the nation's main anti-corruption law. People can now express their views on the web site of the “SB – Belarus Segodnya”, the largest state-run daily newspaper.
So far a number of Belarusians have actively joined the discussion, one journalist noted. “Over only the course of the previous week 150 suggestions were made”, they explained. “SB – Belarus Segondya” will send the best and most concise comments to the General Attorney for further assessment.
Agro-tourism as a source of economic development. The head of state has visited several agro-tourism farms in the Volozhynkij region. He spoke with the owners of the farms and praised them for their hard work. “In this way, we can turn Belarus into Switzerland”, he cheerfully chimed. He also argued for the further revival of small Belarusian villages.
Bumper crops in Belarus. Journalists from state Channel 1 widely covered the results of this year's harvesting campaign. According to their sources, 10 mln tonnes of grains has been collected in total. The coverage notes that the Belarusian leader set a threshold at this level a few years ago, but then nobody believed that would be attainable. Today this is a reality, one journalist proudly noted. “There will certainly not be any shortage of bread in the country”, he added.
The report explains that the key to the harvest's success was primarily due to financial support from the state. In addition to the high level of investment by the state, the report also pointed to the “dictatorship of technology” as another reason behind its success.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.