Green Christmas and the “Kind Button” – Civil Society Digest
This months's notable events included the Green Christmas initiative, which urged Belarusians to give a second life to old things and make an original Christmas gift. Belarusian ATMs may soon have a "kind button" to make charitable donations. Important cultural events included celebration of anniversary of Belarusian Philosophy Space and Rock Solidarity campaign.
Green Christmas. On December 22, the Center for Environmental Solutions organized Green Christmas event. The idea is to give a second life to old things and make an original Christmas gift. One can bring old clothes and materials and together with the designers give them a new life. If desired, each participant has a possibility to pass his/her presents to children's home.
The "Kind Button". Association of Persons with Disabilities on Wheelchairs prepared a social advertising film which calls for accessible living environment for persons with disabilities. In addition, the organization signed a contract with a major Belarusian state-owned Belarusbank to add the so called "kind button" on its ATMs. That would enable bank cards holders to transfer charitable donations in Belarusian rubles for the benefit of the Association. The "Kind Button" will be launched in two weeks.
The first Club House is opened Minsk. A new social service for people with psychological disorders that helps to organize life beyond the boundaries of the hospital has been opened. This a system to transform a patient into a personality and help them to realize the reality around. The round table was held during the opening discussing employment and social security of this target group.
The international organization “Our home” (“Nash Dom”) on the nuclear power plant. A video of the program “Dom-show” (“Home-show”) highlights pros and cons of and controversies of construction of atomic power station in Belarus. One of the most interesting and surprising assumptions indicates that such a station would give an impetus for the development of an atomic bomb, which is considered to be just a red herring tactic.
Kovalev’s relatives filed a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee. On December 15th relatives of the convict in the case of terrorist attack in the subway, who was sentenced to the death penalty, compiled a personal address to the UN Committee regarding the violation of the human right for life. Principles of just prosecution are stated to be disregarded, as well. Kovalev himself wrote a petition for mercy addressed to President Lukashenka.
Belarusian Orthodox Church is not against death penalty. The Orthodox Church does not see enough evidence for univocal treatment of the death penalty. The press centre of the Church emphasized on 15 December that it can not ask for the categorical abolition of the death penalty, which is supported by a considerable part of the population of Belarus.
Belarusian Catholic Church Will Seek Abolition of the Death Penalty. The Catholic Church will direct its efforts to abolish death penalty in Belarus, regardless of the convicted persons. According to Archbishop Tadeush Kandrusievich's statement on 15 December, the death penalty is not based on the principles of humanism and deprives the convicted of an opportunity to repent.
Fundraising campaign for Ales Byalyatski. Famous Belarusian human rights activists appealed to the Belarusian society to show solidarity and raise money for the payment for human rights defender Ales Byalyatsky as “damage caused by the crime.” Compensation of the penalty, according to campaign organizers, can affect the release of Ales Byalyatski or at least decrease the measure of sentence. The required amount to be collected is Br 757 526 717 (approx. $88 000).
Book about victims of post-election crackdown published in Minsk. A book-launch event for journalist Alyaksandr Tamkovich's Suprats Plyni (Against the Flow), which describes the fates of 18 victims of the post-election crackdown on government opponents in Belarus, was held in the office of the Belarusian Popular Front in Minsk on December 21. The book was published with the support of Human Rights Centre Viasna.
The new online portal Usebelarusy.by. On December 20, an interactive portal Usebelarusy.by has been launched. This is the first national web-portal, where everyone can become an author. Portal was created within the project "Dakranisya to vytokau" (“Touch to the source”) by a number of NGOs (APB BirdLife Belarus, “Rest on Village”), governmental bodies, and private companies.
Birthday of “Belaruskaya Fіlasofskaya Prastora”. Belaruskaya Fіlasofskaya Prastora (Belarusian Philosophy Space) invites to celebrate its second anniversary, which will be held on December 28 in the Gallery “Ў” in Minsk. BFP is a community of Belarusian intellectuals who seek to fill the Belarusian cultural field with bright events, create a platform for discussion, support educational projects, open new horizons for reflection on current social issues. Among the participants there are representatives of state research institutions, as well as public initiatives.
Campaign “Rock-Solidarity.” A public campaign has been launched in support of independent music culture “Rock-Solidarity”, initiated by the Belarusian fan-club musicians, rock lovers and NGOs’ activists. The campaign aims to express solidarity with the banned musicians, to inform the public about the existence of “black lists”. One can join the campaign via social networks – Vkontakte and Facebook.
BelSat started new series of stories called “Obsessed” (“Oderzymyye”). This reporting on well-being of civic society in Belarus will cover eight different organizations and individuals, eight kinds of public activity, as well as, eight different civic initiatives. The coverage will include those groups and individuals, who incurably “obsessed” with what they are doing. The opening program was devoted to Vitebsk civic initiative “Our home” (“Nash dom”).
A compilation of films about Belarus during the Soviet era. Civic initiative “Za Novya Smaliavichy” compiled a selection of films about Soviet history of Belarus, which has not been always adequately described. With the motto: “History does not claim absolute truth!” on its cover the disk contains films about Hatyn tragedy, the period of German occupation, Sluck military uprising, Stalin’s times and many other controversial historical issues.
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.
Russia’s Bail-Out, Capital Punishment and Political Parties – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
The return of generous Russian subsidies to Belarus and the death penalty to the alleged Belarusian terrorists were among the most discussed topics discussed by Belarusian analysts. Other issues incuded migration of young Belarusians and problems of Belarusian political parties with attracting new activists.
Getting the rents back in. Russia’s new bail-out of Belarus – BISS analysts Alexei Pikulik and Dzianis Melyantsou describe some reasons for Russia bailing-out Belarus now. Experts consider that "the 2011 battle for a democratic Belarus is lost, but the war is not". It means that Belarus is being dragged into the sphere of Russia's influence and the Eurasian Union will be on the agenda for the coming years. Although that does not mean the fully-fledged political absorption of Belarus into Russia, the West should redefine its strategy and recognize the facts that in order to democratize Belarus it has to offer unprecedented incentives to the country.
Sustainability of external debt in Belarus: analysis and policy recommendations. Research Center of the Institute of Privatization and Management, Minsk, released a policy paper by Gleb Shymanovich and Robert Kirchner. Foreign debt of Belarus grew more than 4 times over 2007-2010 from $6.8 billion to $28.4 billion. Authors argue that there is no econometric evidence that debt attraction influences economic performance in a positive manner. Instead, the authors found that further debt increases may suppress future economic development.
At the same time, while debt sustainability is turning into an important issue, the short-term risks are still limited. The policy paper offers a number of policy recommendations, including to fundamentally re-think macro policies and avoid debt-creating inflows; publish debt maturity on regular basis; and expand the analysis of debt attracted by state-owned enterprises.
Death penalty in Belarus – under the veil of secrecy. The author dwells upon the most pressing and striking issue of social and political life in Belarus these days – the abolition of death penalty, which she inherently advocates and concludes that the whole truth about the conditions of death penalty execution and the people executed may be revealed only after the death penalty is exterminated from the life of a society, which would help to understand the whole horror of it.
Moreover, the article reveals connections between existence of death penalty and the crime rates, as well as, economic and social problems. It is stated that the decrease in crime rate is not dependent on the possibility of being executed; however, it correlates with the increasing level of social and economic pressure.
Ease of sentence – journalist Svetlana Kalinkina gives her emotional reaction to the completion of the case on the explosion in Minsk subway: “I am horrified. Because of the level of a model court in the case of Vitebsk terrorists, because of the level of evidence, because of the level of arguments by which investigators and prosecutors confirmed their point. Because of the ease they recognized the men guilty and sentenced to death. I am horrified”.
Gender-based approach in education: from theory to practice in Belarus. Tatiana Shchurko, Agency for Political Expertise, analyses 7 books recommended by the Ministry of Education for formal gender education, all of which were published recently (2005-2011). The author concludes that, while these modern publications begin to use liberal rhetoric of “gender equality”, the content of these publications does not contain any critique of the existing gender situation in the country.
Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership is developing, but hard times are coming. Head of the Belarusian delegation at the EaP CS Forum in Poznan (November 28-30, 2011) Vlad Velichko shares his impressions of its results. Velichko notes that while the Eastern Partnership has some problems with its development, CSF retains positive dynamics – the Forum adopted a new concept, discussed the issue of institutionalization, and even its registration, it was decided to establish a special working group on social dialogue. But there is another question if CSF is productive in its influencing the processes in the Eastern Partnership.
Why Belarusian youth chooses immigration? The article discusses the right and willingness of Belarusian youth to immigrate from the unavoidable “power of majority”. On December 9th President Lukashenko covered this problem at the meeting of Belarusian Republican Youth Union. The decrease of support for the President among young people is a stable trend. They are actually divided into Europe – and Russia- oriented groups with European ones presently dominating.
Willingness to shift to another culture boosted by the unfavorable political situation and legally unrestricted possibility to immigrate are indicated among the reasons of young people choosing to “find a better life” elsewhere. It’s important to highlight that the majority of them are citizens with active civic position. All the statements are nicely statistically substantiated.
Parties are student structure, not political structures. Political analyst Andrei Kazakevich discusses the situation with the staff turnover in Belarusian parties. The lack of new people coming into the parties is presupposed by the unwillingness to commit to the lasting social risk. The management is also hardly ever changed and that is explained by the reluctance of students and young people to integrate into already created structures. They tend to found new ones without an ingrained system of promotion and established career path, which contradicts the values and perceptions of young people.