Language of Democracy and Language of Dictatorship – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Belarusian analysts discuss the role of language in Belarusian society, media barometer, abolition of death penalty, European and Eurasion integration among other topics.
Language of Democracy and Language of Dictatorship – brief but probably the most popular article of the week authored by journalist Siarhei Dubavets states that the Belarusian democracy remains the only value – Belarusian. Language (Belarusian or Russian) is the main criterion for distinction opposition and the government, democracy and dictatorship, independence and provinciality, genuine culture and serving at the tsar's table. Dubavets says he is speaking the humiliated in Belarus but his native language of democracy while Russian speaking opposition activists use the colonial language of dictatorship forced upon them.
The creation of the “sixth column”? – Belarusian Security Blog notes the increasing of activity of the pro-Moscow “initiative” in Belarus which "buys" local activists. The experts see that Moscow supported groups are working mainly in the free mode, and have the main task of the increasing the number of activists. More strict and clear requirements for their activities will appear near 2015, when presidential elections are to be held. As a result, Alexander Lukashenka may well face a rival far more powerful than even the candidate from the united national democratic opposition.
BISS Political Media Barometer №1 – Belarusian Institute for Political Studies (BISS) presents the first public issue of a new quarterly report— BISS Political Media Barometer covering April-June BISS designed this product with one major goal in mind: to scientifically analyse the quality of the political communication between the Belarusian democratic political forces and the society, and contribute to its improvement. The new BISS product has already got some feedback of the politicians.
Lukashenka is running out of arguments in public speeches – Alexander Zimouski, media consultant and former head of Belarusian state television and radio company, states that Alexander Lukashenka goes to the public "archi poor" prepared. The expert refers not to rhetoric, but content of the speeches, which contain only a set of old templates. Zimovski suggests that the president's associates cannot grasp the new rapidly changing trends and therefore not able to offer a new image of the father of the nation.
What Could be a Transition to Democracy? – a politician Vital Karatysh notices that the transition to democracy in the current Belarusian context does not mean a change of power and the existing laws, but only change of the vector of the existing political system in Belarus. Accordingly, he believes that "any strategy of the opposition, which claims to be effective, must include the achievement of the unity of the democratic forces. Their leaders should always remember that the art of politics is the ability to enter into agreements and to reach a compromise".
Opposition Politics: the Art of the Possible – political analyst Dmitry Kukhlei notes that the official results of the parliamentary elections of 2012 consolidated the trend of the last twelve years, according to which the electoral campaign does not cause changes in the political system. The election showed that neither the leading opposition force, nor an independent civil society did not demonstrate the capacity to mobilize people and create a pole of attraction for the supporters of the changes that have recently dominated in Belarusian society.
National Security Brief: September 2012 – Belarusian Security Blog has released its monthly brief paper covered the national security issues in September. In particular, the experts note that the recent parliamentary campaign demonstrated the authorities' loss in the domestic field. The regime was unable to mobilize the population to ensure the necessary turnout that confirms the idea of a low level of trust of the population to the government.
Abolition of Death Penalty in Belarus is not Realistic – defender Vyachaslau Bortnik speculates if it's possible that Belarus will abolish the death penalty. The expert gives an unambiguous answer: this question is political, and Belarusian authorities use it as a tool for dealing with foreign and domestic policy issues. Accordingly, its abolition is not realistic in the foreseeable future.
European Integration Index for Eastern Partnership Countries – The second edition of the European Integration Index for Eastern Partnership Countries has been published – a study aiming to explore the process of convergence between the six Eastern Partnership countries and the European Union. The work involved over 30 experts from various institutions in the EU and Eastern Partnership countries. Belarus was represented by the BISS who have participated in the preparation of the Index.
BISS Launches Research in a New Field, to Analyze Eurasian Integration – the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) launches research in a new field in order to provide its expert analysis of Eurasian integration, taking into account that this is becoming a reality, which cannot be ignored and requires a thorough analysis by the expert community. The first paper authored by Maksim Karliuk centers on the institutional structure of Eurasian integration.
Belarusian Monthly Economic Review, No.10, October 2012The IPM Research Center released its monthly analysis of Belarusian economy. The October issue covers the following topics: Belarus held parliamentary elections; sharp slowdown in industrial growth; problems of external borrowing come to the fore; growth of imports outpaced growth of exports.
What Model of Social Policy is Needed in Belarus? – Belarusian social policy shows a number of successes, but it has a certain inconsistency, and the government's participation is too large. Such an assessment was given by Oksana Yerofeeva, Head of Department of Economics and Finance of The Belarusian State University, during her report at the 2nd International Congress of Belarusian Studies.
Belarus Researchers Shared Their Knowledge Outside the Country – TUT.BY journalist describes his impressions of the 2nd International Congress of Belarusian Studies held on September 28-30, in Kaunas. The author believes the event the largest Belarusian Science Conference in the Humanities, organised by NGOs. Particular emphasis is placed on the fact that the Congress is above politics and its main task is to give opportunity for scientists and researchers to share their knowledge.
Results of the II Congress of Belarusian Researchers: Expected Topics and Unexpected Conclusions – Natalya Ryabova elaborates at length on key results of the II International Congress of Belarusian Researchers, which took place in Kaunas on September 28-30, 2012. The author suggests that the Congress is becoming a ‘happening’ for Belarusian academic community, while establishment of national scientific data base of research and citation.
Organizational Development: the Situation is Stable, but Need to Keep a Hand on the Pulse – representatives of non-profit organisations positively perceive the idea of the First Capacity Building Fair, that's confirmed with a blitz survey of the Fair participants. The event takes place on October 12 and brought together representatives of CSOs interested in receiving consulting services in organizational development, and consultants who are ready to offer their services.
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.
Belarusian Academics Sacked for Writing Books and Fairy Tales
In Belarus, being an academic means that you work in an institution controlled by the state. Sometimes you cannot be a true scholar because you have to produce the "official truth". Otherwise you risk being repressed for disloyalty.
A good illustration of that is last month’s case of Hrodna University in western Belarus, where a number of prominent university teachers were put under pressure for fulfilling their professional as well as civil activity. A number of solidarity initiatives emerged to support repressed academics. Such campaigns may indicate the emergence of genuine civil society in Belarus.
Ban on Profession in Belarus
Under Lukashenka hundreds of scholars have been fired from universities for being in open opposition to the regime or just unwilling to follow its ideological line. These days such cases are rare because people who remain at universities try to avoid ideological confrontations and to be politically careful in their teaching and research, let alone any political or civil engagement.
While in Minsk, where most Belarusian universities are concentrated, the situation seems a little better, the regional institutions have been almost fully purged of the “unreliable element”. This situation has received the name “ban on profession”. Since all universities, including the few private ones, are controlled by the authorities, dismissed academics have no possibility to carry out their professional activity. In such circumstances, people either have to continue their work abroad or change occupation to make their living.
“Hrodna Studies” textbook causes a wave of repressions
"Hrodna Studies” is a comprehensive guide to the 1,000-year old history of one of Belarus’ culturally and historically richest cities. A number of famous researchers of Hrodna history authored the book. After some effort, they even managed to publish the book with Hrodna University Press in 2009.
Moreover, the book was officially recommended for teaching at schools and universities. However, the first edition was of bad quality, so the authors decided to publish a new edition, supplemented with pictures and a coloured cover.
All of a sudden, the authors of the book were summoned to the rector’s office where they faced representatives of the university administration and the KGB. They asked the academics to explain why the book was published in Poland, why Pahonia and the national flag were depicted on the cover, and why the narrative finished in 1991 and no description of present times was given.
Apparently, the authors decided simply not to touch the period of independence, as it needs much more time to be evaluated by historians. Concerning Pahonia and the flag, they were the first symbols of independent Belarus and due to this fact only have the right to be respected and depicted in historical literature. The authorities, however, regarded unwillingness to describe the glorious rule of Alexander Lukashenka as a sign of disloyalty, which was supported by the use of the "wrong" national symbols.
Most of the university-employed authors subsequently did not give any comments on the situation as they feared losing their positions at the university. Soon, two of them were restricted in their teaching. The only one who dared to openly speak on the issue and defend his position was Andrei Charniakevich.
Andrei Charniakevich: Academic Fired for Civil Activity
Andrei Charniakevich, a docent from Hrodna University, had worked there for 11 years. He had a reputation as a distinguished researcher and teacher as well as active citizen, who had never committed any offences at work. On 14 September the university administration fired him for being late for by a few minutes, then returned him to his position but fired him once again for another minor and clearly false accusation.
Andrei himself believes that the real reasons behind the dismissal are his authorship of the “Hrodna Studies” book as well as his long-standing civil activity. Andrei was one of the active participants in the campaigns which tried to defend Hrodna’s architectural and natural heritage from the unprofessional and indifferent approach of the urban policy implemented by local authorities. Andrei had also commented on historical issues on Belsat, the opposition TV channel which broadcasts from Poland.
The Limits of the Absurd: Fairy Tales Threaten the Regime
Then another famous figure from Hrodna University fell under threat of dismissal. Ihar Kuzminich was a Deputy Head of Law Department and director of the Innovation Centre for Legal Education. He was also famous for his civic activity and popularisation of the Belarusian language. According to information from anonymous university workers which appeared on 8 October, the administration pressed Ihar to resign.
The reason seems totally absurd: they accused him of publishing fairy tales about Pahonia and the white-red-white flag in his online blog. Ihar creates fairy tales in the Belarusian language for kids and short video clips based on them, and publishes them online. Notably, a story about Ihar’s tales was showed on the official TV-channel ANT in winter 2012. Now, the tales seem to pose a real threat to the Belarusian authorities.
Civil Society Resists the Pressure: Solidarity Campaigns Launched
In response to these repressions, a big group of Belarusian and foreign historians and intellectuals published an open letter to the Minister of Education and Rector of Hrodna University. Since 5 October, a large number of people signed the letter via the Nasha Niva newspaper website.
The letter says that the dismissal of Charniakevich is based on false reasons and should be regarded as persecution for academic impartiality. It also condemns the widespread practice of dismissals of academics on the grounds of professional duties and urges the authorities to reinstate Andrei in his university position.
Another form of the initiative emerged at the local level. A group of Hrodna intellectuals established the Juzaf Jadkouski Award. It will be awarded to academics and intellectuals who have made a considerable contribution to the study of the past of Hrodna and to the development of historical urban studies.
Importantly, the problem received thorough attention at the Second Congress of Belarusian Studies, the main academic event of the year in social sciences and humanities, which was held on 28-30 September in Lithuania. Organisers and participants expressed their protest against the “ban on profession” and the exclusion of teachers with an active civil position from Belarusian universities.
They suggested that the Congress can become one of the platforms to support repressed academics by providing infrastructure, possibilities to carry out their professional activities abroad and provide other possible assistance.
The case of Hrodna University shows that emerging solidarity campaigns can provide a real way out for the repressed academics and, potentially, other active citizens. Such initiatives lay the foundations for more autonomy of society from the state and a reduction in its control over citizens.