Europeanization from the Bottom, Bialiatski Gets Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Ales Bialiatski received Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize for human rights defence in Belarus. IPM Research Centre, Belarusian Economic Research and Education Centre BEROC launched a new project "Economics live” on portal TUT.BY. Fond of Ideas together with the Pontis Foundation (Slovakia) will organise a forum in Minsk on corporate social responsibility.
Law on CSOS adopted without CSOs participation. On 2 October The House of Representatives of Belarus adopted in the second reading amendments to some laws on political parties and public associations. A suggestion of 25 CSOs to carry out a public hearing before the second reading of the bill remained unsupported by the Parliament.
Ales Bialiatski receives Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. On 30 September the Council of Europe announced the 2013 laureate of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize which went to Ales Bialiatski, President of Viasna Human Rights Centre and Vice President of FIDH. The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded each year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation to reward outstanding civil society action in the defence of human rights in Europe and beyond.
Civil Society Events
Third International Congress of Belarusian Studies took place in Kaunas on 11-13 October. About 400 scientists, experts, analysts and intellectuals from 25 countries attended the event. The overall framework of the Congress is to look at Belarus through comparison with other countries, namely with the Baltic countries and Scandinavia as a special focus of this year. For the first time the current event is to award the best scientists with the Congress professional prize. The Congress is broadcasting online.
Public hearing on a new law for CSOs. On 9 October in Minsk, Centre for Legal Transformation and the Assembly of Democratic NGOs conducted a public hearing "Improving the legal environment for the activities of non-profit organisations". The event addressed a new law regulating the activities of CSOs, which was passed by Parliament at the second reading in early October. The hearing however was attended only by CSO representatives, government officials did not participate.
EHU hosts roundtable on active citizenship. As part of a two-day Danish Culture Days program, EHU hosted a roundtable discussion on “Freedom of Expression and Freedom to Establish Associations”. NGOs working in the Baltic Sea region and Belarus will share their experiences and challenges in strengthening CSOs. The discussion took place on 12 October on EHU’s campus.
Lecture on Europeanization from the bottom. On 3 October a public lecture by a famous German political scientist Stefan Garsztecki "Is the Europeanization possible from the bottom?" took place at the Minsk bar “Ў”. The event organised by the Centre for European Studies (CES) was attended by about 50 people, including students from Germany, which accompany the professor in his trip over Belarus.
Trainings and Seminars
Capacity Development Fair Diary. The Second Fair of Capacity Development of CSOs starts keeping a diary and posting announcements of its master classes, presentations as well as other working materials. The Fair participants will have the opportunity to learn with the tools of project planning, guerrilla strategies of Belarusian PR, basics of time management, etc. The Fair is to be held in Minsk on 1 November and present the market of capacity development services for Belarusian CSOs.
Economics live. IPM Research Centre, Belarusian Economic Research and Education Centre BEROC and IPM Business School launched the column "Economics live" on the web portal TUT.by. This week issue presents the results of a survey of 400 Belarusian companies regarding their attitude and readiness to the possible accession and working in the WTO.
CSR experts to meet at the Forum. On 15 November Minsk will host a large-scale Forum on corporate social responsibility, a key event in the long-term project, implemented by Fond of Ideas in partnership with the Pontis Foundation (Slovakia) and supported by the European Commission. The Forum is organised with the support of the UN initiative "Global Compact" with the aim of establishing an effective interaction of the three sectors – government, business and civil society – to address social and cultural issues.
EaP CS Forum’s resolutions. The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Chisinau, on 4-5 October adopted a number of resolutions. In particular, the EaP Civil Society Forum calls for creation of favourable conditions for unimpeded functioning of civil society organisations in Azerbaijan and Belarus and views as unacceptable the existence of political prisoners in Eastern Partnership countries
Presentation of “Apple at Apple” magazine. On 15 October at the Minsk Gallery "Ў", the Centre for Environmental Solutions conducts a party in honour of the presentation of a new family environmental newspaper "Apple at Apple." The monthly newspaper covers environmental and family topics, provides useful and fascinating material for the environmentally friendly lifestyle, nutrition, child development and other relevant topics. The first issue was published in April 2013.
Forum of environmental CSOs 2013. On 18-20 October the Forum of Belarusian non-governmental environmental organisations is to take place in Minsk. The Forum is designed to enhance public environmental movement in Belarus and initiated by APB BirdLife Belarus, Green Alliance, the Centre for Environmental Solutions, EcoDom, and EcoPartnership. The special focus of the Forum is public environmental control.
Belarusian "Energy Club" session in Brussels. On 1-4 October the Office for a Democratic Belarus (ODB) hosted a study visit for a group of six Belarusian experts in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency gathering representatives of the National Academy of Sciences, green energy consultancy companies, universities and non-governmental organisations. The visit took place as part of the Energy Club activities in Minsk.
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.
Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan Building Alliances Against Moscow?
On Thursday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka sent out a warning: if Russia keeps export duties on its petroleum products, Belarus will not be able to stay in the Russia-dominated Customs Union anymore.
Belarus sees economic sense in the union only if Putin delivers on his promise on duties which some years earlier seriously undermined the profitability of Belarusian trading of petroleum products. This threat is just one in a series of Lukashenka's recent unfriendly moves against the Kremlin.
Earlier last week, the Ukrainian Prime Minister visited Belarus – exactly at a time when Russia is running amok after Ukraine's decision to sign the Association Agreement with the EU instead of joining the Customs Union. Lukashenka assured Ukraine that Belarus has no complaints about Ukraine's decision in this regard.
Two weeks ago the Belarusian leader met his Kazakhstani counterpart to coordinate their positions with Moscow. Lukashenka continues to aggressively resist Moscow's pressure and, for its part, Moscow leaves him really no other choice if he wants to survive.
Demonstrative Belarusian support for Kyiv
Russia has just ended one more “customs war” with Ukraine. In its battle against Kyiv, it actively encouraged other members of the Customs Union – Belarus and Kazakhstan – to join in. However this move was all in vain as the Belarusian government agencies did not find anything harmful to human health in products of the Ukrainian confectionery giant “Roshen”, the same company which Russian state health agencies declared dangerous. Just before his visit to Kazakhstan, Lukashenka in an interview rebuked Moscow for its policies and explained that he was not willing to blindly support Russia in everything it does.
Just before the visit of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, the main media outlet of the Belarusian government, Belarus Segodnya, quoted Lukashenka saying it was too early to judge the efficiency of the Customs Union. Given the timing and media which published the interview, it contained a clear message – even as a member of the Customs Union, Belarus reserves its right to judge critically this post-Soviet integration initiative.
Lukashenka added that even if Ukraine were to join NATO, Minsk would calmly watch from the sidelines. Azarov thanked the Belarusian leadership for its “calm stance” concerning Ukrainian plans on cooperation with the EU.
On the one hand, after this last trade war with Moscow, Kyiv is looking for allies among the members of the Customs Union. Azarov's visit demonstrates that Kyiv, despite rapprochement with the EU, wishes to develop relations with members of the Customs Union.
When Ukraine is moving westwards, Belarus is receiving all possible Russian subsidies as its major ally Read more
On the other hand, political analyst Andrei Fyodarau speculated that the Belarusian leadership might be interested in Ukraine moving closer to the EU. After all, if Ukraine had joined the Customs Union then Belarus would move down on Russia's list of priorities. “But when Ukraine is moving westwards, Belarus is receiving all possible Russian subsidies as its major ally.”
This demonstrative friendship with the Ukrainian leadership conducting a pro-Western policy is not a new development in Belarusian foreign policy. Lukashenka also had good relations with the previous pro-Western president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, who helped him establish a close relationship with another pro-Western leader – Georgia's own Mikheil Saakashvili. Regardless of who runs the Ukrainian state, Minsk has always cared about its relations with Kyiv in so much as it is interested in watching its own back in its dealings with Russia.
Minsk against the Customs Union
Another beneficial alliance which helps the Belarusian government to survive and fight back Russian pressure is its relationship with Kazakhstan. On 3-4 October, Lukashenka visited the country. This news once again resulted in discussion about Minsk and Astana allying themselves against Moscow.
Lukashenka and Nazarbayev went beyond simply bolstering bilateral relations. They also issued a statement that the Customs Union is an economic project and should not become political. Lukashenka is well known for resisting the creation of supranational organs in this Russia-led integration block.
Supranational organs threaten not only Belarusian sovereignty, but also Lukashenka's power. So far, he has widely used economic instruments to maintain his own power and prevented a massive takeover of Belarusian economic assets by Russian oligarchs despite the Kremlin's pressure, although in the end, he sold Moscow – after prolonged procrastination – some valuable assets such as Beltransgaz – the country's gas transportation pipeline. Further integration within the Customs Union may take from him a part of his economic power.
Political analyst Arseni Sivitski, who works at a new think-tank that is reportedly close to some quarters of the Belarusian ruling establishment, said on Radio Liberty: “It can be said that there was a kind of alliance founded to resist Russian efforts to enforce a form of political integration, yet this alliance emerged already at the beginning of the Customs Union…. This time, however, the criticism on behalf of Minsk and Astana was formulated clearly.”
Meanwhile, political commentator Alyaksandr Klaskouski warns that while Nazarbayev and Lukashenka might be forming an alliance against Russia – especially in relation to the possible expansion of the Customs Union, “they do not even trust each other.”
Tolgonay Umbetalieva, director of the Central Asia Fund for Democracy Development, believes that the alliance is not yet established and the partners are now studying each other. Because of disappointments with the Customs Union and concerns linked to harsh Russian policies towards Ukraine and Moldova, “Kazakhstan is looking for ground on which to establish a kind of alliance with Belarus to somehow resist Russia while avoiding disruption of its relations with Russia”.
Moscow is effectively hampering the development of Belarusian-Kazakhstani relations. For years, Belarus has tried to get oil from Kazakhstan since this would allow Minsk to diversify its oil sources. It would also be more profitable for Kazakhstan to get its oil processed in Belarusian refineries before selling it abroad – currently its sales to Europe are only in the form of crude oil. Russia is blocking this plan, and given the role of the oil industry in Russia, there is little hope that the situation can change.
In fact, Moscow displays no interest whatsoever in Belarus and Kazakhstan building strong states. It prefers to control weak countries. This policy of the Kremlin is increasingly pushing Russia's current allies to look for their future allies somewhere else.