IMF Negotiations, Denomination, Drunk Cossacks – Belarus State Press Digest
The Belarusian leadership negotiates reform plans with the IMF mission and is ready to gradually introduce more market-oriented policies. The new denomination of the national currency will bring in new banknotes in 2016, and Belarusian coins will appear for the first time since the collapse of the USSR. Belarus needs venture funds and new legal regulation to enhance the support of startups.
The authorities plan to punish people who write too many complaints to public organisations. The police cooperate with a civil-force organisation, which was used in the Soviet period. A group of Cossacks were convicted and jailed for hooliganism.
All of this and more in this edition of the Belarus State Press Digest.
IMF reform offer is not rejected. Belarus Segodnia reported that there was a meeting between president Lukashenka and the chief of the IMF mission in Belarus, Peter Dolman which removed many misunderstandings. However before the negotiations politics often interfered into the economic and political negotiations, but now the sides have reached a mutual understanding. Minsk accepts broader introduction of market principles, which can be seen in the example of the increasing price of public utilities.
The same issues concern privatisation, as Belarus continues to look for the best owner of particular pieces of state property. However, Lukashenka emphasised that Belarus is not going to quickly destroy the existing system of the social state and so gradual economic reform is the only solution. The IMF seems to understand this principle, the newspaper says.
Coins come back to Belarus after 25 years. Narodnaja Hazieta writes about government plans to newly denominate the national currency. It is scheduled for 1 July 2016 at the rate of 10,000 to 1. The new design of the banknotes has already appeared in the media. The new banknotes resemble the euro, but have preserved the same concept of images as the earlier Belarusian Rouble. They will also have the architectural monuments on them.
The monuments on banknotes come from each of the six regions of Belarus and the capital of Minsk. Moreover, Belarus will introduce coins, rubles and kopek, for the first time since USSR's collapse. The banknotes are interesting from an identity viewpoint, since most of them display medieval monuments, respected by the nationally oriented part of society. Two new denominations have already occurred in Belarus in 1994 and 2000.
Overly active complainants will be fined. Znamia Yunosti writes about amendments to the Law on the Appeals of Citizens, which introduced punishment for people who see complaint writing to public organisations as a part of their lifestyle. The government will fine those who complain without having serious grounds. Such complaints are especially widespread in housing, public utilities and healthcare.
The director of the Minsk state dental clinic, Aliena Daškievič, shares in an interview with the newspaper that her colleagues dream of this law becoming effective. In Belarus, where public control of the state has hardly ever existed, complaints remain the only channel for citizens to reach officials with their problems. However, many dissatisfied Belarusians, particularly the elderly, continue to write letters to these organisations and therefore seriously annoy bureaucrats.
Why startups receive too little support in Belarus. Narodnaja Hazieta asks Aliaksej Šabloŭski, the director of Centre for Entrepreneurship Support ‘Startup Technologies’, why the ideas of Belarusian programmers receive high acclaim abroad but little financing at home. According to him, Belarus has certain niches for new technologies but its domestic market is too small, so programmers prefer to work abroad.
Belarus also needs to develop an effective system of entrepreneurial support: technology parks, business incubators, venture funds and private investors. The country urgently needs legislation to regulate the creation of such a system. However, the expert concludes that since startup funding remains quite new in Belarus, the country also needs time to let it grow.
Internet project Green Map will map the environmental spots of Belarus. Zviazda newspaper informs its readers that the project of the Centre of Environmental Solution, the Belarusian green NGO, seeks volunteers for their Green Map project. Earlier, the e-map included the spots which collect recycling materials, dangerous waste and second-hand material for further use. The updated e-map will create three new blocks: the addresses of organisations which provide environmental information and consultation, existing renewable energy projects, and natural zones in cities and nearby areas. Today the project unites 26 Belarusian cities and is expected to cover all cities with the help of volunteers.
Russian Cossacks sentenced to prison. Vecherniy Brest reports that three participants of the horse ride from Moscow to Berlin who crossed Belarus this summer, received prison terms after a trail lasting a few months. In a state of alcohol intoxication they beat a student of Pinsk agrarian college.
The conflict occurred after the Cossacks started to harass girls in the college dormitory where local authorities hospitably accommodated their Russian guests. The Cossacks who organised the ride say this was a big disgrace for their organisation and they will punish their colleagues after they finish serving prison terms in Belarus.
Civil support of police thrives in Mahilioŭ. Vecherniy Mogiliov reports that this year voluntary squads (družynas) took an active part in the enforcement of law together with the Mahilioŭ police. Družynas emerged in the USSR in the 1950s to assist police at the local level and still function in Belarus until today. They can be seen in the streets wearing red armbands.
This year the Mahilioŭ družynas have detected a few hundred administrative and some criminal offences. They have also conducted numerous preventive meetings with vulnerable social groups.An active member of the družyna, Valer Prudnikaŭ, who worked as a policeman in the past, looks happy when saying that he managed to attract youth to this civil activity. They enjoy learning how to behave in various situations, and moreover, they receive some payment for that, the activist said.
The first congress of Belarusians of Karelia. Around 100 delegates from 15 municipalities, representatives of the State Duma and regional authorities took part in the first congress of Karelian Belarusians, Soyuz newspaper reports. Belarusians are the third largest nationality in Karelia, the northern region of Russia on the border with Finland, with 23,000 inhabitants of Belarusian origin there. They started to migrate there in 1930s-1940s, when the Soviet government decided to populate the former Finnish territories. Along with voluntary migrants, however, the Stalin regime exiled rich peasants or 'kulaki' to these lands. Now Karelian Belarusians plan to unite into one regional association.
The State Digest Digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.
Europe Insists on Human Rights Progress, Nuclear Plant Concerns – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest
In the first half of November, senior Belarusian diplomats met with their counterparts from Lithuania and France. The meetings focused on economic cooperation. However, Europe has insisted on the need for further progress in the fields of human rights and democracy in Belarus.
Trade, industrial cooperation and investments dominated the agenda of Belarusian Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov’s visit to Pakistan and Turkey, this time without a human rights’ “aftertaste”. Falling export revenues have led to greater personal involvement by the head of government in advancing Belarus's economic interests abroad.
Vilnius Wants Transparency on Astraviec NPP
The suspension of EU sanctions has had no visible effect on the dialogue between Minsk and Vilnius, which continued during the most difficult moments of relations between Belarus and Europe.
On 9–10 November, the bilateral commission on trade and economic cooperation convened in Minsk for its 17th meeting. The delegations led by the economy ministers of the two countries, discussed cooperation in transport, transit, energy, protection of the environment, industry, agriculture and tourism.
On 12 November, Belarusian foreign minister Vladimir Makei received his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevičius. The agenda of their meeting, in addition to the issues discussed by the bilateral commission, included border infrastructure and the relations between Belarus and the European Union.
In a Twitter message after the meeting with Makei, the Lithuanian minister called their talks “candid” and named three areas where irreversible progress was needed: human rights, a visa facilitation agreement and cooperation with the EU. He also underscored the need for transparency on Astraviec NPP.
In fact, the issue of the nuclear facility, which Belarus is building 50 km from Vilnius, may have been the most difficult one at the last talks. Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius told journalists last week that Belarus failed to follow certain international agreements, which provide for an independent environmental assessment of the construction’s impact on neighbouring countries.
Algirdas Butkevičius also strongly denied reports published by Russian media, claiming that Lithuania and Belarus had agreed on the construction of Astraviec NPP. He stressed that “Lithuania [was] not going to adapt any infrastructure to that power plant and [was] not going to buy electricity from Astraviec NPP”.
In Minsk, Belarus and Lithuania agreed to hold an expert meeting in December to discuss Vilnius’ concerns.
Despite a fruitful dialogue on economic and political issues, Belarus and Lithuania do not forget that they belong to two opposing military blocs. On 5 November, Vilnius county court found a former employee of state enterprise Oro Navigacija (Air Navigation) Romualdas Lipskis guilty of spying for Belarus.
This has been the first espionage case that reached the court after the restoration of Lithuania's independence. Romualdas Lipskis was sentenced to three years and three months in a correction facility for having collected information about Lithuanian military and civil facilities.
Kobyakov Visits Pakistan and Turkey
Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov has become actively involved in the country’s diplomatic efforts lately aimed at opening new markets for Belarusian goods.
On 9-11 November, Andrei Kobyakov led a high-powered Belarusian delegation to Pakistan. In Islamabad, he met with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and spoke at the third Pakistan-Belarus Business and Investment Forum.
The Belarusian prime minister called the existing trade turnover between the two countries ($60 million in 2014) a “statistical margin of error”. He nurtures the ambition of blowing it up to $1 billion dollars in a mid-term perspective. To achieve this target, the parties signed a programme titled “Roadmap for fast-track and middle-track economic cooperation between Pakistan and Belarus”.
Pakistani media announced the signing of 18 bilateral documents (agreements, memoranda of understanding, protocols and programmes) while Kobyakov’s press service speaks of 17 documents. Belarus and Pakistan will focus on industrial cooperation, and agriculture and infrastructure development.
Kobyakov’s press service has also avoided mentioning military cooperation among the topics for discussion, probably not willing to harm Belarus’ relations with India. Meanwhile, the Pakistani press have reported on the discussion of cooperation in defence and defence production, counter-terrorism and narcotics control.
From Islamabad, Andrei Kobyakov flew directly to Istanbul. There, on 12 November, he spoke at the Belarusian Investment Forum. The prime minister announced Belarus’ new export market diversification strategy and called Turkey “a key place, a new springboard” for Belarus.
Andrei Kobyakov met in Istanbul with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several potential investors. In a similar way to Belarus's cooperation with Pakistan, Minsk places great hopes on setting up local assembly of traditional Belarusian goods, such as tractors, automobiles, road-building and mining machinery, as well as refrigerators with Turkey. In its trade with Turkey, Belarus also wants to achieve the “intermediate” target of $1 billion in turnover by 2016. The current figure stands at about $600 million.
Kupchyna in Paris for UNESCO and Bilateral Talks
Deputy foreign minister Alena Kupchyna visited Paris on 5 – 6 November to speak on behalf of the delegation of Belarus at the 38th session of the General Conference of UNESCO. She also met with the organisation’s Director-General Irina Bokova.
Kupchyna’s statement in the general debate has been a good sample of a ritual intervention enumerating ‘achievements’ and ‘priorities’ in Belarus’ relations with UNESCO. Recently, Belarus and UNESCO have not implemented any high-profile cooperation projects.
No new sites from Belarus have been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 2005. Besides, there have been no new additions to the tentative list since 2004.
In previous years, lower-level officials represented Belarus at the sessions of UNESCO’s General Conference. It may well be that the main reason for Kupchyna’s visit to Paris was to meet with senior French officials.
Indeed, on 6 November, Alena Kupchyna met with Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs. The French diplomat, who has maintained regular contact with his Belarusian counterpart, became the first to break the news about the forthcoming suspension of EU sanctions against Belarus.
The press services of both foreign ministries reported about France’s appreciation of the constructive role Belarus had played in helping to find a lasting solution to the Ukrainian crisis as well as the discussion of the development of bilateral economic relations.
However, the Belarusian foreign ministry “forgot” to mention Harlem Désir’s call for Belarus’ efforts with respect to human rights and democratic principles. The Belarusian regime can hardly expect that France and other EU countries will satisfy themselves with the expansion of bilateral trade and Belarus’ “donorship of stability”.