KEF Forum Brings Together Officials and Independent Experts to Discuss Belarus Economy
On 5 November experts on the Belarusian economy and government officials will take a closer look at the challenges the Belarusian economy faces at the October Economic Forum (KEF) in Minsk. Hotel Europa will host a one day conference 'New Opportunities or Old Challenges? Scenarios for the Economy of Belarus.'
Deputy Minister of Economy Dzmitry Holukhau will open the event which will include speakers such as Pavel Daneyko from the Institute for Privatisation and Management, Marek Dąbrowski from CASE Warsaw and the academic director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies Aleksei Pikulik.
KEF is an abbreviation for Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum, which in English means October Economic Forum. October is a month when many countries traditionally celebrate a harvest festival – and it is for this reason that the organizers decided to do something similar: they want to gather the most interesting ideas on the economy in Belarus that have accumulated over the past year.
Participants will ask questions through the news portal tut.by and Belarus Digest will broadcast the conference live. Belarus Digest interviewed Alexander Chubrik, director of the IPM Research Centre, about the idea of the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum and its first conference in Minsk.
Influencing the Decision-Makers
The key organisers include three economics think tanks – Research Centre of the Institute for Privatisation and Management (IPM Research Centre), Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC) and Centre for Social and Economic Research – Belarus (CASE-Belarus).
IPM Research Centre is an independent think tank which since 1999 works on economic and social research. BEROC is another Minsk-based think thank which conducts academic and applied research and arranges educational programmes on modern economics and outreach activities. THe Centre for Social and Economic Research – Belarus (CASE-Belarus) – is a Warsaw-based economic think tank working on the development of a market economy and civil society in Belarus.
These think tanks want to not only organise the conference with its focus on Belarus, but also show that there is much more in Belarus than the label of the last dictatorship in Europe. The approach of the organisers of the Forum is twofold: discussion of internal economic problems, but in the wider regional and global context.
Alexander Chubrik, director of the IPM Research Centre, told Belarus Digest that the organisers want to present Belarus to the world and the world to discussions about Belarusian economy. The organisers believe that their event can address the most pressing economic problems: “Certainly, the event will not give any ready prescriptions to all economic challenges, but it rather proposes a thorough diagnosis of the current economic situation of Belarus through involvement of various experts,” Chubrik said.
Involving Ordinary Belarusians
The organisers make the whole event as open and available for potential viewers as possible. In addition to establishing a platform for discussing the economy, they hope to familiarise ordinary Belarusians with current economic problems and their roots.
Chubrik points out the idea of the KEF to make conditions for a professional dialogue open to the public – those people interested in the issues raised will have a chance to address questions to the experts though the news portal tut.by. Belarus Digest will also hosting a live stream of the conference.
The involvement of high level experts on the economy, including economic policymakers, combined with the openness of discussion for ordinary Belarusians via the Internet has rarely been practicised in the past.
According to Chubrik society's confidence in the government's economic policies has dropped over the past years in Bealrus. The openness of the conference may contribute to raising Belarusians level of in current or future economic policies. The interactive aspect of the conference allows ordinary people to get involved and raise issues that interest them.
Addressing the Economic Challenges
The first section of the Forum will look at trends on markets of the main trade partners of Belarus. After the currency crisis of 2011, an increase in exports briefly became the "engine" of Belarusian economic growth. But shortly thereafter the cost advantages that Belarus received after the 2011 devaluation and falling wages disappeared. The situation on foreign markets also worsened: its main trading partners do not have good relations with Belarus or are themselves in recession. The economic effects of integration initiatives, which involve Belarus, remain controversial.
The second section will look at the limitations of and opportunities present in the current Belarusian socio-economic model. Belarus has exhausted the usual sources of economic growth – evidence for which can be found in a number of recent studies. But stagnation, which characterises the current state of the economy, and slow economic growth, is creating additional problems: Belarusian business now faces a lack of qualified personnel, and without an increase in productivity and wages in the country, its labor market problems will be exacerbated and migration will only increase.
After the currency crisis of 2011, inflation and devaluation expectations have improved significantly, which not only reduces the effectiveness of Belarus' monetary policy, but also makes the money market particularly vulnerable to internal and external shocks. These challenges require decisive action, which cannot but affect the welfare of ordinary Belarusians.
This poses additional challenges to social policy – to support the most vulnerable groups and to develop mechanisms of social integration for those who lose their jobs as a result of changes in economic policy. These issues and challenges for social and economic policies will be considered in the work section.
The third section will look at the opportunities and limitations of regional development in Belarus. The panel will discuss the competitive advantages and weaknesses of the Belarusian regions, and possible directions for reform that would fully unleash the potential of each and maximize the potential to mitigate any negative impact at the regional level. The most important topics include the restructuring of public enterprises and the tightening of macroeconomic policies.
The Forum will also address the current tendencies of the global economy and also discuss those reforms which Belarus missed out on which its neighbours already completed back the 1990s.
Global Dialogue on Integration, Poverty in the EU – Belarus State TV Digest
Over the last week state TV channel 1 reported on the top-level meetings of the member states of the Eurasian Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States, which recently took place in Minsk. Alexander Lukashenka urged Tbilisi to return to the CIS and participate in the integration processes in the post-Soviet space.
Belarusian state journalists also covered the forum of youth movement which celebrated its 95th anniversary. During the event the head of state spoke at length about patriotism. The Belarusian students praised the idea of youth organisations and employment opportunities in Belarus.
Minsk became a centre for a global dialogue on integration. Over the last week Minsk was in the spotlight of many commentators. The top-level meetings of presidents of the Eurasian Union member states and the Commonwealth of Independent States took place in Minsk. Politicians conducted a global dialogue about integration, as state TV noted.
Belarusian journalists pointed out the symbolic meaning of place of the meetings – the newly constructed Palace of Independence. During the Belarusian presidency in the organisation, a great deal of work was reportedly done.
The integration processes in the post-Soviet sphere are tempting more states. The state media stated that more and more countries are interested in joining the Eurasian Union and the Customs Union. Today the authorities of countries such as Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine are considering integration in the post-Soviet space. Even Turkey, a serious economic partner of the EU, would be keen on joining the integrating countries.
Lukashenka drew attention to Georgia’s return to the CIS. He pointed out that both in Georgian society and the government there is a desire to rejoin the Commonwealth. The Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovich, also said that the doors to the CIS will always remain open to Georgians. Journalists recalled that the idea of Georgia’s return was the initiative of Lukashenka and found more and more supporters over the days of their gathering.
Belarusian youth should be patriotic. The head of state with his son visited the Youth Forum “Youth. Traditions. Future”, which recently took place in Minsk. Belarusian state TV noted that without youth there is no future for any state or nation. During the event the head of state emphasised that Belarus needs young people who love their country.
State tv showed young Belarusian students who participated in various youth-oriented projects and praised their work.
They also showed viewers that Lukashenka as a student was also involved in similiar activities. Students talked, joked and drank a cup of tea with Lukashenka during the event.
The state will continue to support Belarusian youth. Journalist noted that Belarus had never rejected any of their positive inheritance from the Soviet era. And thanks to continuing on with the youth policy from their soviet past, the state has benefited from it.
Students talked about their experience in working in the student organisations. A boy who worked in a construction group praised the very idea of these organisations, but also the salaries that working students can receive. The boy stated that for two months of work, they received around 19m Belarusian rubles (around $2,000). In his words, those who want to work in Belarus, can find a well-paid job.
Lukashenka reacted to some proposals to involve the student movements to work in construction of a power plant, which is being carried out as a joint project with Russia.The head of state promised to discuss this idea with Vladimir Putin. Perhaps when both states will work on the next power plant in Kaliningrad, they could involve some of the youth. The audience present at the meeting applauded vigorously in response.
Belarus has done everything to attract foreign investors. It was reported that Belarus has prepared all conditions in terms of legislation to become attractive for the foreign capital. Thus over the last years the country is moving upward in the international ratings regarding the its business friendliness. Today Belarus sits in 64th place out of 198 countries. However, some investors complain that the local officials and bureaucrats efficiently block the inflow of the foreign capital. State TV promised to research that issue thoroughly and present it to their viewers.
The European Union is facing poverty, a crisis of trust. State TV reported that poverty in the EU is on rise. Today almost 17% of the EU population, which is 84 million people, lives in poverty. Journalist pointed out that that twenty four million EU citizens remain jobless. The financial and economic crisis in the EU caused a social crisis. Thus, fewer EU citizens trust in European ideas, only 31%, according to data from the European Social and Economic Committee.
The US betrays its European allies. Belarusian journalist noted that scandalous spying activity of America goes beyond all limits. The Americans spied not only on its rivals, but also its partners, such as Germany.
During a tough telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, the American president confirmed that at that moment their talk was not being listened to by intelligence agencies. TV asked however if it was spying before. The US has more problems with other partners such as France, Brasil and Mexico. The country’s relations with Europe are already tense. What else can be found in Snowden’s information leak? – Belarusian journalist asked.
Georgians elected a new president. Belarusian state TV informed its audience that Georgy Margvelashvili, won over 62% of the votes. It showed Georgians who praised the newly elected president and his vision of the country. Margvelashvili opts for constructivism in relations with Moscow, continuation of economic reforms and activisation in the international organisations.
Journalist pointed out how democratic and open the presidential elections were. At the same time, they are concerned about the president’s performance in the aftermath of the legislative amendments that had just come into force. These shift executive prerogatives to the government and Georgia's parliament.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). 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.