Future of Belarus Conference, Youth Initiatives Festival – Civil Society Digest
International Conference “Future of Belarus”. Renowned scholars, researchers, respected international experts, development professionals and civic activists from Belarus and abroad will gather in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius on May 25-26 to debate the “Future of Belarus” at an international conference dedicated to the 20 years of independent research in Belarus and the establishment of the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS).
The conference is organised with support of USAID through Pact, the Eastern Europe Studies Center (EESC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania. Organisers will provide live streaming from the conference over the Internet. The conference program is available here.
Experience of promoting the interests of people with disabilities. Representatives of organisations working for people with disabilities are invited to participate in educational visits "Experience of promoting the interests of people with disabilities" aimed at exchanging successful experiences of Belarusian organisations. The organisers are the International Children's Fund, the Office for the rights of people with disabilities and local organisations. The visit will take place in Gomel (June 7-8) and Polotsk (June 12-13).
Human rights training in Homel. The training named "International standards in the sphere of human rights: monitoring of court proceedings" was held in Homel, with the support of Homel Center for Strategic Litigation. The training was given by experts of the Center for Legal Transformation (Minsk) Mikhail Matskevich and Aleh Fiadotau. During the seminar the participants and trainers discussed the relevant instruments for conducting court monitoring, created by Belarusian human rights organisations and aimed at revealing violations of human rights and procedural legislation.
Trial monitoring workshop "Observer". The Centre for Legal Transformation invites to the workshop "Observer" which will take place on May 21 and 25 in Minsk. The workshop will be devoted to monitoring the hearings in administrative proceedings.
BAJ Congress. On May 18, Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) organised its 8th Congress. At the event, attended by nearly 100 journalists and guests, BAJ Board presented the results of organisation's work in 2009-2012.
Gomel NGOs to discuss third sector development. Gomel Democratic Forum and Strategic Thought NGO invited Gomel-based NGOs to take part in a discussion of third sector development in the region. The organisers will present a brochure of best NGO practices in the region, and invite participants to openly discuss main development trends and institutional challenges that civil society face in Gomel.
Scenarios of the Common Future. On May 24, a roundtable "Belarus: Scenarios of the Common Future" will be held in Minsk. The organizer is the project group "Cytadel", which invites participants to make a meaningful attempt to interface the existing social and political scenarios for Belarus.
Amnesty International refuses to recognise opposition activist Syarhei Kavalenka prisoner of conscience. MEP Marek Migalski received this information from John Dalhuisen, Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. To justify his decision Mr Dalhuisen relied on evidence by Belarusian police officers, who claim Kavalenka showed disobedience to police in jail.
A second month without a passport.Dr Alaksiey Pikulik, BISS Academic Director received an official notification informing him that the term of checking the validity of his passport has been extended for another month. In April Alaksiey Pikulik’s car was stopped in Minsk by the road police on suspicion of disorderly conduct and forging documents. The latter allegation was used as a pretext to confiscate his passport and iPad.
Young Front activists: detained, beaten, sentenced to arrest. On May 14, the apartment rented by the Young Front activists Mikalai Dzemidzenka, Zmitser Kremianetski and Raman Vasiliieu was assaulted by the riot police. The activists were beaten, detained and later charged with disorderly conduct. They were sentenced to ten and twelve days of arrest.
Festival of youth initiatives. A festival of youth organisations and initiatives took place on May 13, 2012 in Art Siadziba in an open space format. Center for the Development of Student Initiatives, Student Council, Public information service of BSU campus, Union of Belarusian Students, AIESEC and AEGEE took part in the event. In addition to learning more about each other’s organizations, the participants viewed a presentation of monitoring results of academic freedom violations.
Quality standards for NGOs to prevent trafficking. The Program "La Strada" / NGO "Gender Perspectives" under the project "Combating human trafficking: work with risk groups and experts: 2012-2013" started the development of quality standards of NGOs in the prevention of human trafficking. Standards will be internal quality criteria that establish minimum requirements for the organization of work.
Current situation in Belarus to be discussed at human rights documentary film festival in Brussels. FIDH, Viasna and People in Need invite to the screening of ONE WORLD 2012 documentary “Belarusian Dream” by Ekaterina Kibalchich with the presence of Taciana Reviaka from Viasna and Alexandra Koulaeva from FIDH to be held in Brusseles on 21 May as part of the sixth annual One World human rights documentary film festival.
Winners of Belarus Press Photo 2012 are determined. The jury of the annual competition of press photographers, Belarus Press Photo 2012, decided on the winners of this year’s contest. The awards ceremony will be held on May 28, 2012 in the Galery ‘Ў’.
PhotoBattle kicks off. The first national competition among amateur photographers PhotoBattle kicked off on May 12, 2012, organised by Grodno-based Third Sector NGO. At the moment, the competitions’ jury is reviewing the works submitted by 16 teams from Brest, Maladechna, Hrodna, Gomel, Baranavichi, Slutsk and Minsk.
34 Multimedia Magazine from Belarus to receive IPI’s 2012 Free Media Pioneer Award. An independent jury of five members of IPI's Executive Board selected 34 Multimedia Magazine, a banned, Belarusian-language youth magazine, to receive the honor. IPI will present the award during a special ceremony at its Annual World Congress, which will take place from June 23 to 26 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Guidebook "I am setting up a non-governmental organisation in Poland" for Belarusians. The Belarus Working Group in cooperation with the Association Klon/Jawor prepared the guide which "step by step" shows the procedure for registration of Belarusian NGOs in Poland, as well as experiences of foreigners in providing social activities in our country. The guide's authors believe that registration of juridical personality in Poland is a solution that in the long run will help fund Belarusian organisations using foreign funds.
Anti-homophobia pickets banned in Minsk. LGBT Human Rights Project ‘GayBelarus’ was denied by Minsk City Executive Committee to hold pickets against homophobia in the government and opposition. The group asked city authorities to hold a picket near the office of BPF party to protest homophobic statements made by the party leader Alexander Streltsov.
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.
CSTO: From NATO’s Enemy to Strategic Partner?
This week Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka attended the jubilee summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
The summit participants took stock of the organisation's evolution since its founding ten years ago on 14 May 2002, on the basis of the 1992 agreement. They also set targets for the CSTO's future development.
Their goals include two potentially contradictory developments. On the one hand, they hope to enhance cooperation with the West and NATO. On the other, they are set on preventing contagion of the “Arab spring”. Which of these two goals comes to dominate will have a profound impact on Belarus’ future.
The CSTO as a time capsule
seven CSTO members have remained frozen in time Read more
Looking back at the decade of political developments outside and inside the CSTO, one gets the impression that the seven CSTO members have remained frozen in time. Belarus and fellow CSTO members Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan remain undemocratic, dependent on Russia, and economically vulnerable.
In the meantime, Belarus’ neighbours Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia have joined NATO and the EU. EU membership and access to the EU structural funds have provided a major boost to these states’ economies and ensured the continuation of democratic transformation. These states participate in NATO’s collective defense system and have revamped their militaries.
Out of the seven CSTO member states only Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have changed rulers Read more
Just like in 2002, when the CSTO was founded, Russia is ruled by President Vladimir Putin and Belarus by President Lukashenka. The leaders of Kazakhstan (Nusultan Nazarbaev), Uzbekistan (Islam Karimov), and Tajikistan (Emomalii Rahmon) are starting their third decades in power. Out of the seven CSTO member states only Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have changed rulers.
All CSTO members remain disengaged internationally, but Belarus’ relations with the West have been the most strained. In 2002, the EU states imposed their first travel ban on Lukashenka and his ministers over poor human rights violations. Earlier this year, EU diplomats were recalled from Minsk, and the Belarusian leader has become less welcome in the EU than ever.
The CSTO members’ ambitions
What has held this motley alliance of autocrats together? At the time of founding, the CSTO states faced very different external security challenges – from Islamic resurgence in Tajikistan to territorial defense from Western enemies in Belarus. As its members were scrambling to develop foreign policy after the Soviet breakup, the group has been held together mostly by default.
Lukashenka openly prioritised controlling social unrest and bridling the power of Internet as the organisation's main targets Read more
However, the threats of popular unrest after a string of colour revolutions and now the Arab Spring have given the alliance a new meaning and kept the leaders coming to the summits. It is not accidental that the CSTO members emphasise developing the collective rapid reaction forces, created on the initiative of Kazakhstan, whose leader has been in power since 1990. Last year, CSTO chair Lukashenka openly prioritised controlling social unrest and bridling the power of the internet as the organisation's main targets.
Besides developing rapid reaction forces, the CSTO has also moved into building drones. Last year, the Interstate Corporation for Development was launched in order to develop “scientific, industrial and high-tech cooperation in CSTO countries”. The organisation is headed by Ivan Polyakov, a senior CSTO official, and boasts 250 ongoing high-tech projects on its website.
This year Belarus national defence funding reached $550.1mln, a 3.3 percent increase from last year. Read more
Looking into the future
Putin has redoubled his interest in the post-Soviet space Read more
Judging by Putin’s diplomatic agenda for the coming weeks, the CSTO's relevance is likely to grow. This year Putin has redoubled his interest in the post-Soviet space. He cancelled his meeting with Barack Obama at the Group of Eight summit in Camp David on 18-19 May and instead has been planning meetings with neighbours. Kazakhstan is the first to be honoured by his presence – on 25 May, and Belarus will enjoy Putin’s visit on 31 May.
Even though Putin seems to have neglected Obama, the new goal of the CSTO seems to be to stand next to rather than in opposition to the US and NATO. Building strategic cooperation with the West was first outlined in the report on reforming the CSTO by the Russian Institute of Contemporary Development last year. Another area for reform is changing the decision-making process from consensus to simple majority. What do these developments spell for Belarus?
Belying his anti-NATO and anti-Europe reputation, the Belarusian leader expressed interest in the constructive dialogue with the UN, the OSCE, and NATO in his speech at the jubilee summit. He seemed certain that the outsiders would be interested in such cooperation and even boasted that the organization expanded during the chairmanship in 2006 (jointly with Uzbekistan). Emphasizing the “growing prestige of the OSCE in the world”, Lukashenka wants to see the organisation welcome additional members in the future.
However, both cooperation with NATO and majority decision-making will radically alter the costs of Belarus’ participation in the organisation. Without the consensus requirement, there will be no need to waste time persuading or pressuring Minsk into agreement if Lukashenka’s goals diverge from those of Moscow. More importantly, if NATO is to become the CSTO’s strategic partner, the Belarusian leader will have to mend his relations with the West. While none of the CSTO members are democratic, the costs of open repression as well as of angering the US and the EU diplomats may rise.
two potential incarnations of the CSTO – as an alliance of autocrats that helps its members hold down their populations and as NATO’s partner Read more
Whether cooperation with NATO or catering to the political interests of the CSTO leaders dominates is likely to depend on Vladimir Putin’s immediate interests. Yet in the long run, these two potential incarnations of the CSTO – as an alliance of autocrats that helps its members hold down their populations and as NATO’s partner in Iran and Afghanistan – will come into conflict with each other. While even NATO has cooperated with undemocratic regimes, it is much less tolerant of human rights abuses than the Kremlin.
In addition to the symbolic praise, the CSTO declaration produced at the end of the May summit contains a curious aside on the inadmissibility of economic and political pressure – between the CSTO members as well as on them from non-members. One may only wonder whether this statement alludes to the Russian or the Western pressure and whether Lukashenka is behind it.