German Foundations in Belarus – the Soft Power of Foreign Policy
Last week, the German Boell Foundation invited the German Belarusian community to a Belarusian evening in Berlin. This event was organised by participants of a summer school who gathered all those who are interested in or dealing with Belarus in Germany.
In times of difficult official relations, German foundations maintain contact with Belarus and often can go further than the official diplomacy is able to. Thanks to them, contacts between Germany and Belarus remain strong despite the difficulties the foundations meet in their work with Belarus.
Foundations play an important role in German foreign policy. They constitute an instrument of soft power in terms of its non-formal foreign policy. The culture of foundations has been particularly well developed over the recent years. Over 90,000 foundations operate in Germany nowadays. However, all political parties in Germany have a foundation attached to them and they often wear names of important party leaders.
German Foundations Support Belarusian Counterparts
The foundations insist they act independently from parties, however, they agree with them on the main spheres in which they act. Moreover, the leading committees consist of party members and politicians. All of them have the legal form of an association and they receive by far the majority of their allocations (around 90%) through the German parliament and German ministries.
They have greater potential and possibilities in the realm of international cooperation than political parties because they are not formally actors of state diplomacy. As an association, they can perform tasks that political parties cannot tackle due to their political nature.
This is why the foundations have proven to be important partners for independent Belarus during the last twenty years. While the official German-Belarusian relations have been rather rocky, the foundations have tried to maintain relations between both sides.
Away from ministers’ meetings, they address different group of actors according to their party’s political positions: The Boell Foundation (Green party) addresses ecological issues while the Naumann Foundation focuses on topics related to their own liberalism and values. Many of the foundations have programmes for journalists, such as in those working on the freedom of the press and free information as a basis for democracy, which is one of the most important values that all parties and foundations share.
Most important of all, however, the foundation establish partnerships with those Belarusian parties are closest to their own policy preferences and positions. The Adenauer Foundation, for example, cooperates with Belarusian Christian democrats. Those contacts make it possible for isolated Belarusian opposition activists to cooperate with established parties, to profit from their experience in party work and establish the necessary structures within their party. As a democratic country, Belarus will need a functioning pluralistic system of people’s parties.
For this reason, the Belarusian authorities eye the work of political foundations with suspicion. Unlike most countries where they work, it has proven impossible for German foundations to establish any representation offices in Belarus. Most foundations therefore have local offices in Kiev, while Konrad Adenauer Foundation (a party close to the conservative party CDU) has representation in Vilnius. This is a wise decision, as most of the Belarusian opposition activists and think tanks have been forced to go into exile and meet there frequently.
Impossible to Establish Representative Offices in Belarus
Very often, the representatives of foundations have difficulties in securing a visa to travel to Belarus which makes work for them very difficult as they have to organise their projects from abroad- and they can rarely visit their project partners within the country.
This has become a general problem as far as cooperation with Belarus is concerned: After so many years of of a stand still in relations, most foundations have reduced their projects with Belarus to a minimum. As the authorities make cooperation more and more difficult, the funding for projects amounts typically only to small sums. Over the past years the media has often reported about the searches carried out in the offices of foundations or even their forced closure in other countries like Russian and Egypt.
In the end of 2011, the small office of Friedrich Ebert foundation (who politically is close to the social-democratic party SPD) had to be closed as the authorities did not extend its license. Up to then, the one-man office had the function of ensuring contact with their local partners.
One important, though a decidely non-political organization, is the Robert Bosch Stiftung foundation, associated with the Bosch company and not financed by public funding. The foundation has long funded important projects with Belarus such as the Contact programme, a programme that has granted funds to German-Belarusian grass root initiatives.
This project has made cooperation on the crucial citizen-based level possible for several years by granting micro-grants of $4,000 to German and Belarusian non-profit projects. However, the foundation has discontinued this project in the light of its new priorities. As with many institutions, the focus seems to have shifted towards the countries of the so-called Arab spring. It seems like even the foundations have given up on their hope of seeing a process of real democratisation in Belarus.
Most of them now focus very specific aspects of political development. The Konrad Adenauer foundation recently organised a summer school for young political leaders. A group of young opposition activists met in Lithuania and received media training as well as practical tutorials on organisational development and negotiation techniques in preparation of the forthcoming municipal elections in Belarus. This seems to be a workable good approach as the old generation of opposition politicians seems to have lost stamina over the last years.
The end of the Minsk Forum as a blow to German-Belarusian relations
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation (close to the Liberal Party, FDP) writes on its website that the work of the foundation within the country is hindered by the authoritarian character of the Belarusian regime. The foundation therefore tries to invite Belarusian participants to its seminars and events and to include Belarusian actors in their activities. As soon as the situation improves, Friedrich Naumann and the other foundation will gladly intensify their project work with Belarus.
While the foundations certainly play an important role in keeping up contact with various actors of Belarusian civil society, they regrettably cannot tap their full potential. Keeping in touch with their political counterparts in democratic countries is vital for Belarusian opposition politician. We can therefore only hope that the foundations will not give up on Belarus and keep funding the projects they have implemented at the moment, despite the difficulties they are encountering.
Belarus-Russia: History of Disintegration
In the last days of July, the backbone of Belarusian economy – the potash industry – suffered a severe blow dealt by its Russian partner.
The Russian company Uralkali refused to work anymore with the Belarusian Potash Company (BKK), a joint enterprise of Uralkali and Belaruskali authorised to sell their products throughout the world.
These developments have seriously weakened the global position of Belaruskali. The “potash collapse” is just one more illustration of the problematic relations between Belarus and Russia.
Both Russian private business and the government do not perceive their Belarusian counterparts as equal partners. Additionally, Belarusians have to work with Russian business without a sufficient legal framework. In these circumstances, integration between the two countries has had no real chance from the very beginning.
Some bigger agreements simply failed or fell apart like the joint companies in the potash or oil industry. Other projects were implemented many years behind the schedule – whether it be military cooperation or the sale of Belarusian pipelines to Russia.
Younger Brother Is Always Wrong
Russian Uralkali, of course, immediately blamed Belarus for the failures of the joint business venture. The Director of Uralkali said to the Vedomosti daily newspaper that it was Lukashenka who allowed the national mining company Belaruskali to sell potash without involving the Belarusian Potash Company and violated thus the previous agreement to work through this company. Yet the Uralkali itself has sold a bulk of its own goods without the Belarusian Potash Company. In the least, the Russian position looks dubious.
An information war followed soon afterwards. “This situation confirms only one truth – Belarusians, as always, are incapable of working with partners in a civilised way,” said the well-known Russian political commentator Andrei Suzdaltsev Radio of Liberty.
Yet the background of this story indicates that something different might have happened. Suleiman Kerimov, the Russian owner of Uralkali, wanted to acquire Belaruskali as he previously acquired another competitor of Uralkali – Silvinit. If he only managed to add Belaruskali to its business empire, he could control up to 43% of global potash market. Kiryl Koktysh of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations says that Uralkali’s actions may indicate Kerimov’s attempt to force Minsk into selling Belaruskali.
With all of its problems, the Belarusian Potash Company was, according to Belarusian economic web-portal zautra.by “probably, one of the most successful strategic Belarusian-Russian economic alliances to have existed since the moment of the Soviet Union’s demise”. This begs a question: if this was the best, how exactly have the other projects?
Belarusian-Russian Integration: History of the Decline and Fall
The chronicle of Belarusian-Russian integration looks like a tug-of-war between Minsk and Moscow. Pompous rhetoric are dismissed by the reality of trade wars and agreements’ delayed implementation. The list of failed major projects between the two countries is another skeleton in the closet of bilateral relations.
|Project||Years of Implementation||Costs (planned or factual)|
|International Potash Company||1992-2005||No data|
|Belarus-Russian oil company Slavneft||1994-2002||Sold in 2002 for USD1.86 billion|
|Belarus-Russian oil companies Rosbelnafta and LYUBel-Oil||1995-2001||Russian investment by 2002 was planned to reach USD 550 million|
|Modernisation of Minsk brewery Krynica by Russian Baltika beer company||2000-2003||Factual Russian investments reached USD 10.5 million, a controlling block of shares was promised to be sold in 2001 for USD 50 million|
|Project on PET-granules production on facilities of Mahilyou’s company “BelPAK” by the Russian Itera||2001-2006||By 2003, Itera allegedly invested more than USD14 million.|
|Development project Minsk-City by Itera
||2008-2012||Planned amount – USD 4.8 billion|
It is more to the point at this time to talk about Belarus-Russian disintegration rather than integration. Some experts admit that the problems in Belarus-Russian relations exist yet believe that some areas are integrating smoothly, defence cooperation in particular.
Anaïs Marin of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs argues in a publication of the Polish Centre for Eastern Studies that defence cooperation is “unfold[ing] regardless of the disputes that sporadically sour relations between Minsk and Moscow, standing out as the main achievement of the Union State [of Belarus and Russia] – if not the only one”. Yet, Minsk has delayed the implementation of every military agreement with Moscow, sometimes for years – as happened with the Single System of Air Defence.
On the other hand, Moscow failed to equip its closest ally with adequate arms – only now, has Belarus finally replaced its remaining old air defence systems, the S-200, with the S-300. The Russian army meanwhile is already replacing the S-300 with S-400. Belarus has no real prospects to get any S-400 in coming years. It is no wonder, then, that the Kremlin does not care about its Belarusian allies. Despite the rhetoric of Belarusians defending Moscow, Belarus pursues its own military policy and enters military agreements with Russia when it wants Moscow to foot the bill.
No Friends in Moscow
There are numerous reasons explain the failure of individual projects in Belarus-Russian relations. Yet there is one fundamental factor. Russia does not perceive Belarus as an independent state with its own needs and interests. “Russia believes that Belarus is its property,” said once in Belsat TV Belarusian analyst Paval Usau. Actually Moscow looks in the same patrimonial way on all post-Soviet nations. The latest Russian-Ukrainian trade war proved this point once more.
Partly, Belarus itself is guilty of the discriminatory behaviour that has been coming from Russia. First, Belarus is still failing to consolidate its own nation and to draw a dividing line with Russia. After all, good fences – both physical and mental – make good neighbours. The very close alliance between the US and Israel is a model proposed by Lukashenka for Belarus-Russia relations. Yet Washington looks on Tel-Aviv as an independent nation not as a breakaway territory. In particular, this means that Washington wishes for Israel to be robust and powerful. It is better to have a stronger ally.
On the contrary, Moscow considers any Belarusian success as a threat. Thus, in recent years it did not welcome attempts by Minsk to diversify its sources of imported oil. Russia actively counteracted Belarus’ policy of buying Venezuelan oil, which is quite logical from the Kremlin’s perspective. If the Kremlin considers Belarus not as an ally but simply a breakaway territory, then this territory should not become strong. The reasons that Moscow does not give Belarus new military equipment become clearer when this is considered. As Anais Marin put it, the Russian establishment sees Belarus as a territory, and not real ally.
Second factor between Russian dismissive stance towards Belarus is lack of a Belarusian lobby in Russia. The Belarusian government has done a lot to find such support in Russia. Minsk tried – rather successfully to present itself as the last island of sunk empire and to mobilise Russian right-wing political groups. The Belarusian regime clearly could find some support among Soviet-time generals, right-wing intellectuals and regional industrial bosses. Yet this support appears rather unorganised and gives Belarus little leverage in disputes with the Kremlin.
A Civilised Divorce
In last decade, Russian officials have effectively renounced earlier rhetoric of integration with Russia. They apparently had no illusions that what Lukashenka has done – at least in the last decade – resembles a gradual separation from Russia. Furthermore, Minsk is not Russia’s marionette. For all its services, the Belarusian state received from Russia subsidies which last year amounted to ca. USD10 billion (16 per cent of GDP).
Oddly enough, it is often Western policies which drives Belarus into the Kremlin’s hands. So, for example, the problems of the Belarusian Potash Company began last year when the EU threatened to impose sanctions on Belarus. It created a favourable atmosphere for Russians to put pressure on Minsk to sell Belaruskali to Russian potash magnate Kerimov. The media then reported about plans to found a new Russian-dominated potash company – Soyuzkali – whose office had to move from Belarus to Switzerland, i.e., under control of Kerimov. It did not happen, yet contributed to a crisis inside the Belarusian Potash Company.
The Russian option for Belarus remains elusive. Objective opportunities which exist for Belarusian business and individual Belarusians in Russia are offset by huge biases against them that are regularly demonstrated by Russia. Moreover, aggressive Russian attempts to take over Belarusian assets leave little space for integration and cooperation between two countries. In a word, Belarus is not as close to Russia as frequently assumed and the West should never dismiss Belarus as an active actor.