Guardian Training in Minsk, Kastrychnitski Economic Forum, Open Data Community – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Over 50 companies offer discounts for students participating in the free language course Mova Nanova.
KEF conference 'The Global Context, Local decisions: the potential of the private sector in Belarus' will take place in Minsk. Belarusian state officials, independent economists and experts expected at the event.
All Minsk grassroots are being collected in a single google document. Open data community helps Belarusians benefit from publicly available data.
Students of Mova Nanova courses get discounts of 50 companies. Discounts from 5 to 25% are available upon presentation of a student card, which is delivered to all 600 students of Mova Nanova (Language in a New Way) free Belarusian language lessons in Minsk and other cities. Among the companies that joined the discount program are bookstores, cafes, photography, mobile accessories, trips, clothing and even visits of basketball games.
Guardian’s New East network journalist workshop in Minsk. On 29 October The Guardian’s New East network, Belarus in Focus, and the Belarusian Association of Journalists will hold a half-day workshop for English-speaking journalists based in Belarus who write, or want to write, for international audiences. This workshop will look at how news and current affairs from Belarus are covered by English-language media organisations, and focus on ways that journalists in Belarus can expand and diversify this coverage for international audiences.
Mova ci kava in Warsaw. Mova ci kava/Language or Coffee, free Belarusian language lessons expand its activity till Warsaw, Poland. The first class, led by Siarhiej Pieliasa, editor at independent TV channel Belsat and Taciana Niadbaj, a poet, took place on 13 October at cafe OSIR. Topic for the first lesson is ’Let’s get to know each other’.
All Minsk grassroots are being collected in a single table. It's an open, free, collaborative google-doc that could be supplemented by anyone who has information about Minsk civil society initiatives or organised communities. The idea to create such a document belongs to a well-known Russian urbanist, Sviat Murunov who attended Minsk with a workshop on urban communities about a year ago.
The Open Data community in Minsk. Community Open Data collects numerous data from open sources and makes them visible and clear to take decisions on specific city issues – to control budget costs, improve infrastructure, monitor public security, etc. At the technical level, open data is a huge Excel- or CSV-files, that contain useful information but it must be extracted and analysed in order to be clear/accessible for ordinary citizens.
Film Festival on problems of human trafficking. To the European Anti-Trafficking Day, Gender Perspective NGO together with the Minsk cinema ‘Victory’ present a Film Festival of La Strada program, devoted to the problem of human trafficking. The movie screenings are held on 16-18 October; admission is free.
Capacity Development Fair to help meeting CSOs and providers at the market. On 31 October the Third Fair of CSO Capacity Development that is to take place in Minsk. This year an annual popular event will become a true market where customers (CSOs) will have real money to buy services of the consultants. To provide CSOs of purchasing capacity, the Marketplace announces a Fair call for CSOs to get pre-approved vouchers and make deals with providers directly at the Fair. The the registration for the Fair to participate is open until 20 October.
Public voting at the Social Weekend 4. Social Weekend 4 is a public contest of social ideas that are posted at the web site for public and expert voting and the best ones get support from local business. Among 160 ideas submitted this year, part of them are linked to local community development and designed by the fellows of the current round of the Fellowship program organised the Office of European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) and Pact.
KEF conference 'The Global Context, Local decisions: the potential of the private sector in Belarus' will be held 5 November in Minsk. The Belarus’ Minister of Economy, head of the World Bank in Belarus, and others are expected to attend the conference conducted under Kastrychnitski Economic Forum (KEF). The KEF is a platform for open professional dialogue on sustainable development in Belarus in the context of the global economy. The conference is organised by IPM Research Centre in cooperation with BEROC and CASE Belarus with support of USAID/Pact and the Association of European Businesses.
Sector Analysis of Regional and Local Development study is to be presented on 24 October in Minsk. The study was commissioned by the Office of European Expertise and Communications (OEEC). One of the study's conclusions concerns the CSOs that are not significant actors in the sector, however, their potential, the work implemented and the funds attracted allow to classify them as important agents of change at the territorial level. The presentation will start at 2:30 pm, at the Viktoria hotel.
Festival of the Independent Belarusian Culture took place on 6-10 October in Wroclaw, Poland. The festival was held for the sixth time and includes not only concerts and exhibitions, but also discussions on Belarusian politics and economy. Organiser of the festival is the fund ‘For Your and Our Freedom’.
Lyntupy invites for Festival. On 11 October at the border between Belarus and Lithuania, Lyntupy village hosted a Festival 'Dream of Blue Lakes'. The festival suggests its visitors an exhibition of homemade textiles, embroideries, works of arts and crafts, fair of local services, tasting of local food, master-class on contemporary street art, etc. The event is organised by Lyntupy's residents and vacationers with the support of the local administration.
Belarusian NGOs: Plenty of Leaders, but Who are the Authority? – The research of solidarity potential in the Belarusian civil society, conducted by the Centre for European Transformation (CET) and the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) at the beginning of the year, aimed at assessing and giving intentional interpretation of the social and political solidarity in the Belarusian civil society. All in all 150 organisations were selected as respondents. The research shows that Belarusian third sector is a crowd of leaders no one of which has enough authority to set reference points and program of solidarity actions.
Watchdog Function in the Perception of Belarusian NGOs. Needs Assessment of NGOs in Civil Monitoring – The study was performed by the Centre for European Transformation (CET) and commissioned by Belarus Watch NGO in the summer of 2014. The research shows that the watchdog function is not typical of Belarusian NGOs. Not all organisations see a specific effect or do not really understand why they need civil monitoring, and respectively they do not plan to include this function in their activities.
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.
Belarus At The United Nations: Resentment, Bragging And Anti-Western Rhetoric
Three weeks ago Belarus Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei presented the country's multilateral initiatives in the general debate of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. The United Nations remains Belarus' preferred tool for promoting its foreign policy initiatives and a source of development assistance.
Makei chose to please mainly Minsk's allies among third-world countries. He made no attempt to capitalise on recent timid advances in relations between Belarus and the West. Instead, resentment, anti-Western rhetoric and unjustified bragging filled his rather bleak statement from the UN rostrum.
UN's Special Place in Belarusian Diplomacy
Belarus, together with Ukraine, became a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 in recognition of these nations' role in defeating Nazism. The Soviet Union thus got three votes in the Organisation.
The permanent mission of Belarus to the UN opened in New York only in 1958. The mission even lacked nominal independence in its diplomatic activities. It was often staffed with diplomats sent from Moscow and all decision-making was made there.
Nevertheless, the mission became a great school of practical diplomacy for many Belarusian civil servants. They formed the core of the foreign ministry's staff when Belarus obtained independence in 1991.
Belarus' Priorities at the 69th Session
Traditionally, Belarus invests a significant amount of human and financial resources into its participation in the annual UN General Assembly sessions. Also, the government used to formally approve the country's priorities at each session drafted by the foreign ministry.
This practise seems to have been abandoned. The priorities for the 69th session are only available as a non-paper at the web site of Belarus' permanent mission to the UN.
The 16-point document pays special attention to the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. Belarus also intends to further prioritise its two key initiatives, the fight against human trafficking and the protection of traditional families. In the field of security, the priority issue is the prohibition of the development and manufacturing of new types of weapons of mass destruction.
Some priorities have been rather oddly formulated and sound more like political statements, i.e. about "international human rights law, which some countries have repeatedly violated through their unilateral activities".
Belarus sees the country-specific resolutions on human rights only as a "tool invoked by some countries to advance their own political and economic interests". As a target of one of such resolutions, Belarus intends to "strongly oppose" them.
Belarus' Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei made his statement in the general debate of the 69th UNGA session on 30 September. He spoke in Russian, hastily and unemphatically, before the half-empty UNGA meeting hall.
Makei's statement contained few positive statements or overtures. He preferred to develop the anti-Western rhetoric of a besieged state.
Uladzimir Makei started with a historical reference to the WWI, which he used as an introduction to his condemnation of those "revising the outcome of WWII… or defiling the memory of the fallen heroes".
The minister failed to name such offenders. He also preferred to disregard the fact that Belarus' closest ally, Russia, routinely befriends far-right political forces in Western and Central Europe, whose leaders often honour Nazi collaborators and deny Holocaust.
Faithful to the country's declared UNGA priorities, Makei aligned with those who believe that human rights rhetoric serves only to punish those nations, which rebel against subordinating themselves to the greedy transnational capitalism.
Uladzimir Makei intentionally reminded the General Assembly who the main allies of Belarus were: "Countries like Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela surely feel such pressure much more than others". The minister has clearly taken pride in being in this company of outcasts.
Autocratic Stability and Ukraine
From the UN rostrum, Makei promoted Alexander Lukashenka's vision of a "powerful", strong state meant to protect its citizens from "chaos, lawlessness and impunity". Many UN members will certainly disagree with this vision arguing that the state's strength and power derive from democratic institutions and not a one-man autocratic rule.
The minister asserted that Belarus had been chosen as a "site for addressing acute international crises" namely because the international community considered it to be a "stable and internally coherent state".
Not many experts would agree with this assertion. The international community has certainly appreciated the balanced position of the Belarusian government in the Ukrainian crisis. Belarus indeed has some geographical and logistic advantages, which warranted the choice of Minsk as a venue of the talks on Ukraine. However, it is doubtful that the negotiating parties ever considered Belarus' internal autocratic 'stability' as an advantage when making this choice.
The above passage was the only reference to the conflict around Ukraine in the minister's speech. Makei refrained from assessing the new challenges to the regional and international security even within the constraints of Belarus' position of neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Development Priority and Traditional Family
The foreign minister called the international community to use thematic global partnerships as a tool to implement the post-2015 United Nations development agenda: "Only effective partnerships among states, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector can deliver success in addressing any global problem". Ironically, the Belarusian authorities are reluctant to engage civil society and private sector as equal partners when discussing domestic affairs.
Uladzimir Makei also resented the alleged attempts to force Belarus "to renounce the values of a traditional family, and recognise instead the diversity of this institution’s forms". Again, he sees the liberal policies on family issues only as another capitalist plot: "This may be just another way to subdue the resisters to the capital by turning them into soulless slaves".
The strengthening of traditional family has become Belarus' top priority initiative within the UN. Regrettably, the Belarusian authorities have failed to provide more clues about their understanding of this term. It is not clear whether it goes beyond the rejection of the same-sex marriages and adoption of children by homosexual families.
In 2013, Belarus ranked No. 2 in the world in terms of the divorce rate. BelTA once quoted Professor Katsiaryna Antsipava saying that this divorce rate "signalled the ill-being of the family institution in the country". So much for Makei's offer to share Belarus' advances in this sphere with others.
Belarus' Prospects in the UN
Belarus has probably begun losing momentum in its UN-centered multilateral efforts. It becomes difficult to continue to capitalise on the successful initiative on combatting the human trafficking as it is becoming another institutionalised UN issue.
The initiative on traditional family has failed to gather proper international support. It is vague and non-priority for most countries if not directly unacceptable. Also, it seems unwise for the Belarusian authorities to emphasise their pariah status just to show off before the third-world allies.