Flirtations with Warsaw, credits from Moscow, and demographic worries – State press digest
In recent weeks, Minsk has flirted with Warsaw and praised Ukraine for moving “in the right direction”. Meanwhile, foreign minister Uladzimir Makei rebuked former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, while hoping to sign a visa agreement with the European Union. Alexander Lukashenka met Vladimir Putin once again, yet achieved no progress concerning Belarus’s dissatisfaction with Russia’s latest tax manoeuvre.
Belarus requests $600m credit from Russia. Nuclear fuel should arrive at the Astraviets nuclear power station by summer 2019. The scandalous battery plant “IPower” near Brest is ready for exploitation.
Lukashenka bemoans the country’s demographic crisis and a lack of army conscripts. Minsk National Airport introduces Belarus-made barista-robots. All of this and more in the latest edition of State Press Digest.
Lidziya Jarmoshyna names the election date, reports Belarus Segodnya. Jarmoshyna, the chairperson of the Central Election Commission, expects that the next Belarusian presidential elections will take place no later than 1 December 2020. However, according to Jarmoshyna, president Lukashenka should announce the precise date himself, quite possibly during his annual constitutional address.
Minsk flirts with Warsaw, according to Belarus Segodnya. On 11-14 February 2019, Michail Miasnikovich, the chairman of the Council of the Republic, visited Poland. Miasnikovich met with Polish president Andrzei Duda, prime minister Mateusz Moraviecki, the chairpersons of Polish Seim and Senat, as well as with a range of other ministers. Both Belarus and Poland have high expectations from this visit and expect to boost inter-state relations afterwards.
Makei declines to comment on Rasmussen’s statement on Russia, reports BELTA. Foreign minister Uladzimir Makei rebuked Rasmussen’s statement on Russia’s intention to annex Belarus in the near future. In particular, he remarked: “How is it possible to comment on some nonsense spoken by ex-officials who lost touch with reality? No comments will follow from our side.”
In addition, Makei failed to provide a substantive comment on the rising cost of Schengen visas for Belarusian citizens from 60 to 80 euros, reports Belarus Segodnya. According to Makei, “When we observe that a certain problem becomes an insurmountable obstacle, the Belarusian side always expresses its willingness to compromise.”
On the contrary, should Belarus eventually sign the visa agreement with the European Union, the cost of Schengen visas for Belarusian citizens will drop to 35 euros.
Meanwhile, one of Belarus’s deputy ministers for foreign affairs praises Ukraine, reports Belnovosti. On 25 February, deputy minister for foreign affairs Andrei Eudachenka visited Ukraine’s Lviv region and expressed interest in increased trade cooperation. According to Eudachenka, Ukraine remains “a brotherly nation and a trusted neighbour,” which moves into the “right direction”.
Lukashenka meets Putin again, yet the meeting brought no clarity about Russia’s tax manoeuvre, states BELTA. On 13 February 2019, Lukashenka attended an informal meeting of the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey on the Syrian crisis in Sochi. According to Lukashenka, despite the existence of “serious problems” in Belarus-Russia relations, especially in the field of taxation, the presidents failed to mention those problems during the meeting. As Lukashenka noted, “We will undoubtedly touch upon the tax manoeuvre, yet, aside from the tax manoeuvre, we have a lot of problems to resolve – that’s what we are about now.”
Belarus asks Russia for $600m credit, according to Soyuznoe Veche. According to Maksim Yermalovich, the head of Belarus’s finance ministry, Belarus has asked for the credit to refinance its debt obligations to Russia.
Nuclear fuel will arrive at the Astraviets nuclear power station by summer 2019, reports Belarus Segodnya. As noted by Mikhail Mikhadziuk, the executive from the Ministry of Energy, the infrastructure is ready for the transportation of nuclear fuel. According to Mikhadziuk, the first power unit is 87–88 per cent complete, while the second one – 65–67 per cent.
Lukashenka approves the state investment program for 2019, reports BELTA. Infrastructure appears the key focus and the state plans to reconstruct 26 major sites across Belarus. The list includes: Minsk’s building for surgery, Hrodna University’s dormitories, a bridge across the Pina river, and apartment buildings for families bringing up orphans.
The scandal-hit battery plant “IPower” near Brest has been completed, reports Belarus Segodnya. The total investments into the plant’s building reached $26m, with 138 workplaces created. While the plant’s management expects to launch battery production in March, a significant number of the locals have expressed concerns about the plant’s ecological safety.
Prime Minister Siarhei Rumas sceptical about market mechanisms, says Finansovyi Director. Prime minister Rumas expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of market mechanisms for financial stabilisation. According to Rumas, market mechanisms remain unsuitable for the revival of numerous state enterprises, which still rely on state support.
Lukashenka worries about future demographic problems claims Belarus Segodnya. The President of Belarus expressed serious concerns about the worsening demographic situation in Belarus and its impact on the national economy. Lukashenka promised to take “extraordinary measures” to combat the national demographic crisis and promised to provide additional state support to families with children.
In regards to demography, Lukashenka also touched upon the decrease in army conscripts. The President of Belarus complained about the legal loops allowing young men to skip the army service, reports BELTA. According to Lukashenka, the growing number of young men without basic military training creates a dangerous situation for national security.
Lukashenka reprimands the Minister of Education, reports President’s Press Service. On 25 February, the President of Belarus reprimanded Ihar Karpienka, Belarus’s Minister of Education, for failing to provide the necessary security measures in Belarusian schools. Lukashenka reprimanded Karpienka amid the teacher’s murder committed by a pupil from Slonim.
A secret bunker opens to visitors near Shchychyn, reports Gazeta Slonimskaya. The secret bunker should remind tourists about military resistance during the Cold War. During the Soviet era, the Shchychyn bunker served as a command base for coordinating the air force’s flights. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the Belarusian military failed to use the bunker properly; hence, it later passed to the local authorities for preservation.
Minsk’s National airport introduces Belarus-made barista-robots, reports BELTA. Both Minsk and Kyiv envisage coffee houses equipped with collaborative robots made in Belarus. According to the director of the production company “Rozum Robotics”, the company decided to launch a brand new unusual product and thus conquer CIS markets. In the first instance, Kyiv will be the target market for these innovative robots.
Soyuznoe Veche reports on Belarus and Russia’s celebration of Soviet Army day. Men from both countries engaged themselves in “half-naked” marathons and group games. Marathons in Soviet military attire proved the most popular activities in Minsk and Moscow that day.
The State Press Digest is based on the review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. 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.
Freedom Day 2019, dance flash mob, anti-fake news campaign – Civil Society Digest
A campaign aiming to improve the situation in prisons and help former prisoners kicks off. Nashe Mnenie expert network finds out that the value of rights per se has grown significantly for Belarusians. TUT.BY chief editor Maryna Zolatava to stand trial in BelTA case on February 12. Mediakritika.by portal kicks off an online project about fake news.
The organizing committee applies for Freedom Day 2019. Minsk will hold a flash mob against gender-based violence. Authorities allow citizens to propose amendments to draft laws. Two Belarusian CSO activists take part in the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Freedom Day 2019. On January 16, the organizing committee applied for holding a mass event to Minsk municipality. The organizers believe that up to 30,000 people may appear at the celebration of the 101st anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR). The scenario includes marching from Kastrychnitskaya street to Dynamo Stadium, a rally and concert. A fundraising campaign is open.
Authorities allow citizens to propose amendments to draft laws. The Council of Ministers’ resolution introduces a possibility to discuss bills at the official Legal Forum. At the same time, the state limits the initiative to submit bills to the public. In general, independent experts welcome the new law – the state, though with a lot of reservations, seems ready to listen to the citizens’ opinion.
Dance flash mob against gender-based violence will be held in Minsk, on Valentine’s Day, February 14. The flash mob as a part of the One Billion Rising international campaign aims to put an end to the bullying of women, and with the help of mass dances demonstrate solidarity with the victims of violence. Marching, Baby! initiative organizes the action in Minsk. The exact location is to be confirmed.
Investigation of Zakharanka, Hanchar and Krasouski’s cases is suspended. The state has stopped looking for the opponents of the authorities who went missing 19 years ago and for the people guilty of their disappearance. The relatives will appeal this decision.
Return a Person human rights public campaign kicked off. The campaign aims to improve the situation in prisons and help former prisoners in their socialization. The campaign also intends to seek the possibility of visiting places of detention. The campaign was initiated by the Belarusian Documentation Center together with partner human rights organizations.
Belarusian rating of human rights. In December 2018, Nashe Mnenie (Our Opinion in English) expert network commissioned a poll on the question, which rights and freedoms seem to be the most important for Belarusians. Thus, Belarusians highly value social rights, to a lesser extent – economic, even less – political. But compared with 2013, the value of rights per se has grown significantly for Belarusians.
19 Belarusian media will be monitored since February 2019. Press Club Belarus launches a large Media IQ campaign that will monitor 15 online media and four TV channels to observe journalism standards and detect signs of misinformation, propaganda, and manipulative techniques. The campaign will also organize media schools for high school pupils and promote media literacy among Belarusians.
TUT.BY chief editor Maryna Zolatava to stand trial in BelTA case on February 12. For the first time in the history of modern Belarus, the chief editor will be tried on charges of offences related to the professional activities. Zolotava remains the only accused person in the so-called BelTA case, an investigation into alleged unauthorized access to paid services of the government-owned news agency.
Special project FAKES. Everything you need to know about fake news in 2019. Mediakritika.by portal kicked off an online project about fake news to answers the actual questions: what fakes are and how to recognize them; what real consequences of virtual fakes are; how to deal with fakes around the world at different levels and what is the future of fake news.
Whitepaper 2018: European prospects of Belarusian higher education. The Public Bologna Committee released the 2nd whitepaper on the implementation of the Bologna commitments by Belarus. The authors not only state the numerous problems of Belarusian higher education but also outline a program of action for modernization. The authors present the report at the Press Club, on February 5.
BISS is launching its first educational project Be Critical. The project of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) is meant to promote critical thinking in the Belarusian society, especially among youth. It is to include a range of activities like video-lectures, training, and textbooks. The introductory video lecture is available (in Belarusian).
Mova Nanova celebrates its 5th anniversary. The first classes of Mova Nanova (Language Anew in English) free courses of Belarusian language, were held in Minsk on January 13, 2014. Now the classes take place in 14 cities and attended by over 3,500 people. Organizers call to donate for courses through the crowdfunding platform Talaka.
Two Belarusian CSO activists take part in the World Economic Forum in Davos. They are Andrey Yeliseev, East Center research director, and Lyudmila Batura, an employee of one of the UN regional offices. Both activists represent Minsk Global Shapers Hub, an international network of young professionals under the WEF auspices.
Individual entrepreneurs seek a meeting with Lukashenka. They collected almost 7 thousand signatures on an appeal to the president with a request to meet. The chairperson of the Perspektiva CSO met with the head of the presidential administration to deliver the appeal. Entrepreneurs want to discuss urgent problems of small business with Lukashenka.
Index of the Good for business. The social fund Dobra (the Good in English) will measure the social responsibility of the Belarusian business – how much a company cares about people and the environment. The index aims to motivate companies to more active communication with consumers and organizations that implement social projects.
Belarusian Foreign Minister answers to Brigitte Bardot. In December 2018, the famous actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot appealed to Alexander Lukashenka with an open letter in which she asked to protect homeless animals of Belarus. In response, Belarus MFA Head Vladimir Makei expressed deep respect to Bardot and thanked her for the valuable advice.
Belarus slips to 70th place in Global Corruption Index 2018. The Transparency International’s index measures 180 countries on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. Since last year Belarus has moved down from 68th position to 70th with 44 scores. The country made a serious leap at the end of 2016 – from 107th to 79th place.
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.