Flying University courses, Charter97.org blocked, Absurdity of the Month – Belarus civil society digest
Ulej sums up results: 137 local crowdfunding campaigns collected over $280K. Imena calls for applications to fund social projects and organizations. Social Weekend competition is launched for the 11th time. The first Repair Café is held in Minsk.
New guides for CSOs: Belarusian practitioners share the experience of how to run social media and attract local resources. Liberal Club invites youth to participate in the “Belarusian Lego” essay competition.
BAJ: 101 journalists detained in 2017. Access to the opposition website Charter97.org blocked in Belarus. BPF Youth head expelled from the university. Electby campaign announces a contest for “Belarusian Absurdity of the Month”.
This and more in the fresh Belarus civil society digest.
Ulej sums up results. From its inception in 2015, a Belarus’ crowdfunding platform Ulej.by has been facilitating the successful implementation of 137 crowd campaigns. These are books, theatrical performances, designer things, social projects etc. The authors of the projects collected over $280K.
Imena calls for applications to fund social projects and organisations. The Imena platform collects money for projects thanks to resonant materials on the Imenamag.by website. This year, the Imena has a department for working with projects. Since its inception in 2016, the Imena has supported 25 projects and collected donations of over $230K.
Local and urban activism
Social Weekend launched for the 11th time. Any Belarusian is eligible to apply for the Social Weekend, a national contest of social projects and get all the necessary resources – money, knowledge, and social capital. Deadline for applications is 28 February. Since 2013, Social Weekend got over 2,000 unique ideas, 200 were supported from local sources.
The first Repair Café held in Minsk. On 21 January, in Minsk, Repair Café was opened for everybody who wanted to repair household devices, bicycles, clothing etc. for free. Similar events are a part of the international movement spread in 200 cities of different countries around the world. The objective is to reduce waste, to maintain repair skills and to strengthen social cohesion.
Award ceremony Zrabili! / Done! recognised the best community initiatives on Belarus. On 13 January, in Minsk, over 50 initiatives were awarded for the successful activities during 2017. The award was founded and given for the second year in a row by Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC), CityDog.by and 34mag.net under the joint initiative, which expands the visibility of grassroots activism in Belarus.
101 projects participate in the #Paskarenne contest. The #Pascarenne / Acceleration contest, initiated by a non-profit platform Talaka, includes ideas that “cause pride for the country in any field”: from social and urban to entrepreneurial and technological. Winners will be named in February, following the results of people’s and expert voting. The prize fund is $5K.
Case studies in community development. The SYMPA Centre and the NGO Assembly released a collection of case studies, which describe the grassroots activism in different Belarusian locations in 2016-2017. The manual contains the stories about the organisation of the courtyard’s festival, repair of roads, changes in street names, etc.
Guide: How CSOs should run social media. New Ideas Centre releases a guide that explains how CSOs can operate effectively in social networks. The guide is available online and created under the Public Participation project, that unites 10 organisations working together to support civic activity in Belarus, expanding innovation, exchange of experiences and mutual learning.
Manual: How to raise funds at the local level. ACT NGO presents a fundraising handbook for CSOs that describes the key local sources of funds, methods, and tools. The book also includes cases of CSO cooperation with business structures, legislation aspects, as well as practitioners’ recommendations.
Flying University invites to new courses. The University offers 8 open courses involving contemporary issues, associated with the rapid technological and innovative development. The Flying University is an initiative aimed at creating in Belarus the space and environment with free thinking; it is a movement towards a modern University in and for Belarus. Applications are accepted until 5 February.
Belarusian Lego essay competition. Liberal Club invites schoolchildren and students to participate in the 5th annual essay competition. The theme of this year is Globalisation vs Belarusisation. Thirty winners will receive an invitation to a three-day educational school. The papers should be sent by 28 February.
Opposition website Charter97.org blocked in Belarus. The Ministry of Information explains its decision by the reason that the website had published information the dissemination of which is able to harm the national interests of Belarus. The Belarusian Association of Journalists protests against blocking access to social and political websites.
In 2017, the persecution of journalists increased (infographics). According to Belarusian Association of Journalists, 101 journalists were detained last year (to compare: 13 cases in 2016). The total sum of fines, imposed on journalists for cooperation with foreign mass media in 2017 is €24,235.
Belarus in Focus 2017 is accepting articles. The international competition for journalists writing about Belarus in international media is annually organised by Belarus in Focus Information Office in partnership with Press Club Belarus. This year the competition takes place for the 7th time. The deadline for applications is 15 March 2018.
BPF Youth head expelled from the university. Hanna Smilevich, 18, became the leader of the BPF Youth on 24 December 2017. She was a second-year student of the BSU Institute of Journalism. BPF Youth Council considers Smilevich’s expulsion is politically motivated since she had no problems with her studies before heading BPF Youth.
10th contest of projects of Meeting Place: Dialogue program is organised by Vzaimoponimanie NGO together with EVZ Foundation. The competition aims to support projects in the interests of former prisoners of concentration camps and ghettos, people involved in forced labour and other victims of Nazi persecutions, as well as other people born before 9 May 1945. Deadline is 28 February.
Absurd of the Month competition. The campaign in the national election observation Electby announces a competition to identify anything absurd in modern Belarusian reality. It can be any violations related to the current legislation or daily life, in a governmental entity or a public space. The massages should be sent by 10 February.
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.
Supporting EU unity, Bielaja Ruś congress, new unemployment policy, KGB name will remain – Belarus state press digest
Belarus strongly supports EU unity and reiterates that the Eastern Partnership should not become a dividing zone between the European Union and the East. Bielaja Ruś will not become a political party any time soon. The KGB should not change its name, Lukashenka argues.
A new unemployment policy responds to the unpopular ‘social parasite tax.’ Belarus may rival the Russian energy sector after the nuclear power plant (NPP) opens. Foreign investors reluctant to embrace the heavy social obligations imposed by the government. Belarusian workers disappearing in Russia.
All this in the new edition of the Belarusian state press digest.
Foreign policy and domestic politics
Belarus strongly support the EU’s unity. Alexander Lukashenka met the EU’s Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, reports Belarus Segodnia. The Belarusian leader expressed his firm support of a strong and unified European Union. ‘The European Union is one of the most powerful pillars on our planet, and the destruction of this major pillar in a multipolar world would destroy not only global security but also the global economic system.’
Speaking about the Eastern Partnership, Lukashenka expressed his wish that it were more practice-oriented. ‘We cannot allow the Eastern Partnership to become a purely political organisation, and God forbid it to become a dividing zone between the European Union and Russia, China and the East as a whole.’ Lukashenka also thanked the commissioner for assisting in the negotiations on Belarus’s accession to the World Trade Organisation.
The KGB should not change its name, says Lukashenka. Meeting the chairman of the State Security Committee (KGB), Valiery Vakuĺčyk, Lukashenka said that retaining the historical name of the Committee was the right decision. The current generation of security officers should not be ashamed of the name, which fully reflects the tasks assigned to the agency, reports Belarus Segodnia.
The president especially noted the KGB’s contribution to the fight against corruption: ‘No one did more than the KGB in the area of large-scale corruption… The ruthless struggle against corruption protects our state from disintegration and internal conflicts. Our people will not tolerate corruption, it will surely lead to disorder.’ Lukashenka regrets that other law enforcement bodies do not keep up with the KGB’s efforts in combating corruption.
Bielaja Ruś will not become a political party any time soon. On 19 January, the Republican Public Association ‘Bielaja Ruś’, considered the ‘association of the establishment,’ held its 3rd congress. The organisation summed up its work during 2012-2017 and approved new versions of its charter and programme, writes Belarus Segodnia. The congress elected Hienadź Davydźka, the head of state media holding Belteleradiocompany, as Bielaja Ruś’s new chairman. Attention once again turned to the long-discussed issue of transforming the organisation into a political party.
According to the head of the presidential administration, Natallia Kačanava, this step would not be appropriate at the present time. ‘Bielaja Ruś or some other public organisation will become a party when members of the organisation demand it. This we have not seen so far.’ The newly elected chairman agreed with her point: ‘The goal of any party is the struggle for power,’ said Davydźka. ‘But Bielaja Ruś struggles only for the prosperity of our society. It is an army of patriots who work to consolidate and develop civil society.’
Economy and social policy
Belarus introduced a new unemployment policy. The government issued Decree No. 1 to tackle unemployment in place of the notorious ‘social parasite tax.’ The decree provides for the establishment of permanent commissions with local authorities. The commissions will approach people individually, study their personal circumstances, and render employment assistance.
The state will strengthen retraining for the unemployed, offer temporary employment, and teach the basics of entrepreneurship. At the same time, the decree provides for the equal social responsibility of all citizens. Those who do not want to work will have to pay full reimbursement of the costs that are subsidised by the state: transport, education, healthcare, housing and communal services, informs Hrodzienskaja Praŭda.
Foreign investors do not accept the heavy social obligations imposed by Belarus. In 2017, Lukashenka approved a list of 10 large industrial enterprises for privatisation by Chinese investors with certain preconditions: preserving the production profile, technical re-equipment and modernisation, expansion of the product range, and maintaining salaries at the level of the region’s average.
Zongsheng Corporation showed interest in purchasing 60-75% of Homsielmaš machine industry plant. However, the Chinese required that the Belarusian government reduced the number of workers by at least a third and paid the plant’s debts before the deal. Besides, the corporation insisted on replacing the management at the enterprise with Chinese managers. The Belarusian side suspended negotiations as a result of conditions it considered unacceptable, reports Respublika.
Belarus may become a rival to Russian energy sector after NPP launch. In the pages of Mink Times, the leading analyst at the Centre for National Energy Security, Ihar Juškoŭ, analyses how the energy market will change after the opening of the Belarusian NPP. The first reactor of the NPP will service the domestic market, while the second will export energy to the EU.
Belarus will not compete with Russia as an electricity exporter because Russia does not sell energy on these markets. However, Belarusian energy may rival Russian gas in both domestic and EU markets. The NPP is expected to replace 4.5bn cubic metres of gas annually – representing a huge loss for Russia’s Gazprom.
Belarusian workers continue to disappear in Russia. In 2017 the Viciebsk regional police received 130 requests to search for Belarusians who disappeared after leaving the country to work abroad. The region has one of the highest rates of labour emigration to Russia. Eleven residents of Viciebsk region died, while the fate of 32 people remains unknown, informs Sielskaja Hazieta.
The official police representative, Volha Škuratava, points out that often people bring misfortune on themselves. After earning their first salary, they begin to drink, lose their documents, or stop contacts with their relatives. Finally, some ask for help by trying to contact either relatives or the embassy and thus get out of trouble. However, others turn to drink and begging or fall victim to accidents. People freeze, poison themselves with bad alcohol or become enslaved by criminal groups.
The state press digest is based on a review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media primarily conveys the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how the Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.