Grand media barometer, foreign investment forum, civil society trends in 2016 – digest of Belarusian analytics
BISS releases Grand Political Media Barometer and a fresh Foreign Policy Index. Belarusian economy continues to show a fragile stability, according to Belarus Security Blog. National Agency of Investment and Privatisation sums up the results of Belarus forum “Broadening the Horizons: Investment, Finance, Development”.
Viasna presents fresh monthly monitoring of the human rights situation in Belarus. Experts formulate eight key trends in Belarusian civil society in 2016. BAJ monitoring group presents final conclusions on the coverage of the Parliamentary election in the Belarusian media.
Joerg Forbrig: parliamentary elections were invisible, but not trivial. Artiom Shraibman analyses why Lukashenka allowed opposition to Parliament.
This and more in the new digest of Belarusian analytics.
Grand political media barometer: report on communication of Belarus’ independent political forces (2012-2016) – BISS presents a report for 49-month monitoring (starting April 2012) on the media-appearances of the Belarusian opposition political forces. According to the Barometer, there is a clear explosion of politics during the electoral campaigns and the presidential elections were characterised by the unprecedented growth of communication.
Recommendations on the creation of foreign retraining programme for civil servants. Organisation of foreign educational programmes would improve civil service and competitiveness of Belarusian economy Read more
Authority pulls opposition in delicate game – Journalist Paŭliuk Bykoŭski believes that two oppositionists in the new parliament are an indirect signal of the situation in the ruling regime. He suggests that there are "doves" within the system that stand for cooperation with the West, with the expansion of freedom without any change in political realities. However, it is impossible to predict how long the "doves" are in favour.
Belarus Foreign Policy Index № 33 (July–August 2016) – BISS presents its regular issue of Belarus Foreign Policy Index, which explores Belarus’s foreign policy. In particular, in July and August, Belarus-Russia relations were developed in difficult conditions due to the emergency on NPP construction in Astraviec and difficult negotiations on gas and oil. The main topic in relations with the EU was parliamentary election campaign.
Belarus forum “Broadening the Horizons: Investment, Finance, Development” results – One of the recent Belarusian forum's organisers, the National Agency of Investment and Privatisation sums up the forum results. The forum is called as one of the most important events in the economic life of the country that allowed discussing strategies to attract foreign investments in Belarus. BISS independent think tank was among the organisers.
Moscow would not oppose. Will Minsk sign a new programme with the IMF? – Belarusian authorities started another round of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. One of the questions is how Russia would react to Belarus' cooperation with the IMF. According to BelaPAN, Russia's official position is that the Belarusian authorities should carry out the IMF recommendations.
Monitoring of the situation in the field of economic security of Belarus (August 2016) – In its monthly monitoring Belarus Security Blog notes that the Belarusian economy continues to show a fragile stability. The most serious risk to financial stability is the deterioration of the external sector. At the same time, a successful resolution of oil and gas conflict with Russia can be a significant factor in improving the foreign trade balance.
Human rights situation in Belarus: September 2016 – According to Viasna's monthly monitoring, September was not marked by any significant changes of a systemic nature that could contribute to qualitative changes in the human rights situation. The key negative trend were new cases of arbitrary detention of political activists that had not been applied by the Belarusian authorities since August 2015.
Foreign investment: only loans so far. Foreign loans remain the main source of investment and are used to refinance current debt and thus only increase the total volume of debt rather than lead to reform and increase of economic efficiency Read more
Civil society organisations in Belarus: eight trends of 2016 – During a discussion organised by ACT NGO on 26 September, the civil society experts name the key events and developments happened to Belarusian CSOs in 2016. Namely, such trends appeared visible as a cautious warming in relations between the state and civil society, increased activity of unaffiliated grassroots, crowdfunding boom, strengthening gender mainstreaming, etc.
What happens to Minsk from the point of Urban Studies? – Urbanist Dzmitry Bibikaŭ discusses new areas for evening entertainment that have emerged in Minsk and a process of gentrification, which is the core of the changes of deteriorated urban neighborhoods. In particular, the expert is sure that Minsk has a huge capacity in gentrification, and the future is for industrial zones.
Recommendations on the creation of foreign retraining programme for civil servants. Improving the competitiveness of Belarusian economy is impossible without creation of professional civil service. Civil servants in national and local bodies should have the ability to generate and implement non-standard management tasks, have a comprehensive view of the modern public administration in the world, global economy and international cooperation organisations. An essential component of this new approach can be a more active use of foreign educational programmes. This paper provides recommendations on the organisation of such a programme in Belarus.
Foreign investment: only loans so far. Trends in 2015 did were similar to previous years. Low demand for state-owned assets, as well as lack of flexibility and interest in speeding up the privatisation process remains the main factor of zero dynamics of sales of state assets. Foreign loans are the main source of investment and are used to refinance current debt and thus only increase the total volume of debt rather than lead to reform and increase of economic efficiency.
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.
The Belarusian language in education: a reluctant revival?
On 7 October, Alexander Lukashenka criticised education officials for the lack of Belarusian language instruction in schools. According to him, “because of amateurs in the Ministry of Education, it has come to the point where pupils have six English classes per week, but only two of Belarusian language”.
Such a statement may come as a surprise, given that Lukashenka is largely responsible for Belarus's longstanding policy of Russification. In 1994, when Lukashenka became president, three-quarters of Belarusian school children studied in Belarusian, compared to only 13.7% now. In universities, the number of students who study in Belarusian is a mere 0.1%.
The authorities are currently changing their policy towards the Belarusian language. The appointment of Alena Anisim of the Belarusian Language Society to the Parliament shows that the Belarusian authorities do favour gradual measures promoting Belarusian. However, these measures may not necessarily lead to a revival of the Belarusian language, but rather simply prevent it from disappearing from the Belarusian education system.
Lukashenka and Belarusian medium education
In the eyes of many, the person who contributed most to the decline of the Belarusian language over the past twenty years would be Alexander Lukashenka. After coming to power, the new head of state re-implemented the Russification policy of the late Soviet Union, put in place after World War II.
The Russian language's domination of the Belarusian linguistic landscape would come as a surprise to those living in Belarus in the first half of the 20th century. In 1950, 85% of newspapers were published in Belarusian and in 1955 95% of schools operated in the language. Nevertheless, by 1969 one third of Belarusian pupils were not taught the Belarusian language at all. The role of the Belarusian language declined until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When Lukashenka became president in 1994, three-quarters of Belarusian students studied in Belarusian. In 1990-1995 Belarus could boast four times as many publications in Belarusian than ever before in the past 400 years combined. However, after his election, the leader of Belarus asserted that "the Belarusian language is an impoverished one" and returned Belarus to a policy of Russification.
Lack of Belarusian language in the education system
Lukashenka’s policy resulted in only 10.5% of preschool children, 13.7% of pupils and 0.1% students studying in Belarusian medium schools in the 2015/16 academic year, according to official statistics.
None of the 52 universities in Belarus use Belarusian as the main language of instruction. It seems that the only students whose whole education programme is in Belarusian are those majoring in Belarusian language and literature.
Moreover, some teachers are no longer teaching classes in Belarusian due to the internationalisation of the Belarusian education system. As one professor from the Belarusian State University told the author, he no longer gives his lectures on Belarusian foreign policy in Belarusian because Turkmen students could not understand him.
The case of school children is also problematic, as it is often difficult to find Belarusian-language teaching materials, calling official figures into question. On 30 August, Radio Liberty published a video in which a journalist attended a huge Education Fair and found few publications in Belarusian on subjects such as geography or computer science. This means that although schools are supposedly holding some classes in Belarusian, they are in fact often conducted in Russian.
Many Belarusian cities, including Viciebsk, a large regional centre with 350 thousand inhabitants, have no Belarusian-language school groups at all. In nearby Mahiliou, another large regional centre, only one pupil is studying in Belarusian.
This is a contrast to Minsk, where several Belarusian medium schools remain, and they enjoy a prestigious reputation. In 2016, citizens of Minsk even took turns waiting in line in the evening to be the first in the morning to submit documents to apply for Belarusian medium School №23.
Not letting the Belarusian language die
After the start of the conflict in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities have changed their approach to the Belarusian language, expanding its use in the public space. In July 2014, Lukashenka made his first speech in Belarusian in decades. However, official statements regarding expansion of the Belarusian language in education have so far proved to have more hype than substance.
Even if the government adds one more Belarusian language class per week to school programmes, it will not change the fact that all other classes will remain in Russian. Moreover, Belarus lacks higher education institutions in Belarusian. Therefore, many people do not see the point of learning exclusively in Belarusian at the school level.
Analytical Paper: Belarusian Identity - The Impact of Lukashenka's Rule The regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka rejected the ethno-national model of state suggested by his predecessors in the early 1990s. Instead, he restored a soviet style “statist nation” with a centralised bureaucratic machine at its core. Read more
Lukashenka's words recall previous statements from the Minister of Education Mikhail Zhuraukou. After taking office in 2014, Zhuraukou stated that "geography and the history of Belarus should be studied in the Belarusian language." However, so far nothing has changed.
Nevertheless, it is possible that the authorities may be able to slightly increase the role of the Belarusian language in society. This may be the reason why the regime appointed Alena Anisim, vice-head of the Belarusian Language Society, as one of the two democratic leaning MPs to the Parliament. It seems that she lacks any political agenda other than promoting the Belarusian language.
Moreover, the Belarusian language is no longer a political issue for Lukashenka, as it was in the 1990s when his Russophile policy opposed the Belarus-centric vision of the Belarusian Popular Front. Having marginalised this opposition group, Lukashenka himself can afford to take a more pro-Belarusian stance. Moreover, he lost his chance of becoming president of Russia, so his new aim thus became strengthening Belarus.
The leader of Belarus is unlikely to want more Belarusian medium schools, but one more Belarusian language lesson in Russian medium schools seems possible. It seems that the authorities remain reluctant to revive the Belarusian language, but also want to avoid its disappearance.