London conference, Annual Report, Belarusian language trends, the longevity gap – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In March, the Ostrogorski Centre held its annual London conference on Belarusian studies and published its report covering the centre’s activities in 2017.
Analysts from the Ostrogorski Centre wrote about trends in Belarusian language use in public education and civil society, Belarus’s massive gender longevity gap and the ongoing quiet reform of the Belarusian army.
We also added five new research papers from the Belarusian think tanks to our BelarusPolicy database.
Alesia Rudnik discusses trends in Belarusian language use in the state education system and civil society. At present, the near impossibility of receiving pre-school education in the Belarusian language concerns some parents. Others cling on to even the slightest possibility of ensuring their children’s education in the Belarusian language. Yet others wonder why the question arises at all – thinking that it would be better to teach students English or Chinese.
The rapid disappearance of the Belarusian language from the education sector (from 19% in the 2010-11 academic year to 13% in 2017-18) paradoxically coincided with the increasing popularity of various kinds of Belarusian cultural initiatives and projects.
Ryhor Astapenia analyses Belarus’s massive gender longevity gap. The Belarusian gender debate understandably focuses on women’s rights, but in reality, men deserve as much attention. Belarusian men have a far lower life expectancy than women; lower even than North Korean men. Both men themselves and state authorities bear responsibility for this. Belarus remains one of the most alcoholic nations in the world and Belarusian men generally treat their health with indifference.
This has painful consequences. Families lose a parent and a money-maker, while the state loses a taxpayer. Even before death, poor health among men leads to low productivity and hence holds significance for the economy. The Belarusian government undertakes some efforts to promote healthy lifestyles but it fails to do so systematically.
Siarhei Bohdan writes about the ongoing quiet reform of the Belarusian army. On 18 February, president Alexander Lukashenka offered to deploy a 10,000-strong Belarusian contingent as peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine. This represents a rather large commitment for the Belarusian army comprising in total 46,000 military personnel.
Minsk pays increasing attention to its military and has even raised spending on its armed forces by a fifth. But the Belarusian army still faces problems, which go beyond the acquisition of expensive weaponry. It also has fewer conscripts than it would like. Consequently, it employs additional professional soldiers and relies ever more on reservists. In this way, the army adjusts to the needs of the country.
3rd annual “Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century” conference
The 3rd annual conference, Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century, took place on 23 March in London. University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, the Ostrogorski Centre and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum together organised the event.
The conference featured speakers from the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. Panels covered history, social and political movements, foreign policy and art. The traditional Annual London Lecture on Belarusian Studies, delivered this year by Dr. Alena Markova, was called “Belarusian State- and Nation-Formation: From Polatsk Principality to Independent Belarus”.
The conference guests included Stanislaŭ Šuškievič, the first head of independent Belarus (in office 1991-1994), and the UK ambassador to Belarus, Fionna Gibb. The conference programme is available here. Podcasts of the conference will be made available online on the Ostrogorski Centre Soundcloud.
2017 Annual Report of the Ostrogorski Centre
In March, the Ostrogorski Centre published its annual report for 2017. The Centre has strengthened its team as well as the reach and impact of our work, particularly in the field of online education.
In June, the Ostrogorski Academy has been officially launched. Its ambition is to serve as the first entirely online educational platform in Belarus, which features video lectures, transcripts and tests presented in an engaging format.
As in previous years, we held three major annual conferences – the Ostrogorski Forum in Minsk dedicated to foreign policy and security issues, the annual London conference on Belarusian studies, and a conference on the reform of higher education in Minsk. The new 2017 issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies features articles by researchers from Canada, the United States and Belarus, as well as several book reviews.
In 2017, the Ostrogorski Centre continued to provide daily analysis of events related to Belarus in English through the Belarus Digest website, and in the Russian/Belarusian languages on Ostro.by. We also kept the Belarus Policy and Belarus Profile databases up to date.
This year, Belarus Digest welcomed a new analyst on national security and defence – Dzmitry Mitskevich from the Belarus Security Blog. Peter Braga, a PhD candidate at University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London joined the editorial team of Belarus Digest. Siarhei Bohdan, a regular contributor to Belarus Digest, defended his PhD thesis at the Free University of Berlin.
Comments in the media
Siarhei Bohdan became the author of the Security Barometer section of the Minsk Barometer project – a regular monitoring of foreign policy and regional security. In the first issues, Siarhei writes that on the one hand, Belarus avoids being drawn into the confrontation of the current Russian leadership with the West and its eastern European allies. On the other hand, it is increasingly disappointed in the growing reluctance of the Kremlin to strengthen its allies militarily and economically.
The Belarusian leadership understands that the Russian media strongly influence mass opinion in Belarus and wage information attacks against official Minsk. At the same time, Minsk cannot go too far in countering it, for example by closing Russian channels which broadcast in Belarus, says Alesia Rudnik in a comment to Polish radio.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
- Ihar Pielipas’, Aliaksandr Chubryk, Iryna Tachytskaya, Hleb Shymanovich, Darya Urban. Belarusian Business in 2017: State, Trends, Prospects. IPM Research Centre, 2018.
- Aleh Mazol’. Institutes and Economic development. BEROC, 2018.
- Yaraslau Kryvoi, Raman Maroz. Reform of Legal Education in Belarus and the Experience of the UK. Ostrogorski Centre, 2018.
- The Belarusian Economic Review, Q4 2017. BEROC, 2018.
- Mikita Bialiayeu, Yauhen Mardasevich. Self-Regulation of Business in Belarus on the Example of Advertising: From Declaration to Implementation. Liberal Club, 2017.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion in the database by emailing us.
The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to a market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com, BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.
Multi-party system in Belarus, High Tech Park expansion, Trudeau’s socks – Belarus state press digest
Alexander Lukashenka considers a transition to a multi-party political system. Russian ambassador Alexander Surikov says no deep integration of Belarusian and Russian industries has occurred thus far. Lukashenka says Belarusians need to know the history of the Belarusian People’s Republic, but should not be proud of it.
46 new companies take up residence in the Belarusian High Tech Park in a single day. Lukashenka criticises the government for its poor performance in 2017. Brest Stocking Mill presents a pair of socks to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.
Belarus considers a transition to a multi-party political system. During a meeting with constitutional court judges on 16 March, Constitution Day, Lukashenka mentioned possible future amendments to the constitution. He particularly addressed the topic of a full-fledged multi-party system, reports Zviazda. Proposals to create a party on the basis of the Bielaja Ruś GoNGO (government-organised non-governmental organisation) have long circulated, but the president firmly opposes turning it into a pro-government party.
“Some say that it is high time to delegate certain powers to political parties in order to solve the human resources problem, and this is correct. Others say that the time has not yet come. If society is willing to create a true multi-party system, we need to clearly establish its role in the constitution. However, at this stage, the parties lack sufficient membership,” Lukashenka submits.
Russian ambassador Surikov: deep integration of Belarusian and Russian industries has not happened so far. Ahead of Russian presidential election, Soyuz newspaper talked to the Russian ambassador to Belarus about present and future of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Surikov does not foresee any significant changes in the relationship between the countries. The Union State will remain a model for integration on the post-Soviet space for a long time.
However, he acknowledged that deep integration of close industries in the two countries has not yet happened and much should be done. “We need to think about what functions to transfer to the supranational level, how to make the Union State a legal entity, so that it has a voice in the international arena,” he said. Surikov also insisted that equal hydrocarbon prices will apply to all members of Eurasian integration projects by 2025.
Lukashenka: Belarusians need to know the history of the Belarusian People’s Republic, but should not be proud of it. During a meeting with young people working in the creative professions on 20 March, Lukashenka commented on the centenary of the Belarusian People’s Republic, which civil society will celebrate on 25 March. According to him, Belarusians need to know the history of the Belarusian People’s Republic’s (BNR) founding, but they should not be proud of it.
The president drew attention to the fact that this period has not been studied thoroughly, and that existing information remains very contradictory. The founders of the BNR sought independence for the country, but they were ready to collaborate with any foreign power for attaining this goal and would fall into dependence anyway, writes Belarus Segodnia.
On 13 March, the Belarusian High Tech Park registered 46 new resident companies. An expansion of this scale never before occurred in more than ten years since the park’s establishment, writes Belarus Segodnia. This became possible due to the adoption of Decree No 8 “On the development of the digital economy” which becomes effective on 28 March. Last year, service exports from the park exceeded one billion dollars. Almost half of this volume goes to the EU, and 43% to the USA.
Belarusian companies provide IT services to global corporations including Samsung, HTC, the London Stock Exchange, the World Bank, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Google, and British Petroleum. About 1 billion people in more than 150 countries use mobile applications developed in the park. Such success can be largely attributed to the special legal status of the park’s residents. They are exempt from all corporate taxes, and income tax is set at only 9%. The decree extends this special tax regime until 2049.
Lukashenka criticised the government for poor performance in 2017. On 2 March, the Belarusian president discussed reports provided by the government, the National Bank of Belarus, regional executive committees and the Minsk City Executive Committee. He criticised these organs for failings in economic policies, reports Belarus Segodnia. According to him, the government concerns itself only with the formal achievement of indicators. Over the past 7 years, world GDP grew by 25%, while the Belarusian GDP growth did not even reach 6%. The president noted that Belarusian regions develop unevenly – only Minsk, and to some extent the Hrodna region, showed clear progress.
Lukashenka also criticised the unfair competition on the Russian market despite the existing economic union and urged the government to seek new markets. Lukashenka demanded that in the next five-year period, Belarus reaches $100bn of GDP from its current level of $54bn. Only this will make an average salary of $1,000 possible.
Belarus attracts more hunters from Europe. Last year the number of hunters coming to Belarus from the European Union grew by a third thanks to the new visa-free regime. If, as expected, the government increases the period of visa-free travel to ten days, the effect will be even more impressive, writes Respublika. Europeans know about the abundance of wild animals in Belarusian forests, including species that are quite rare in the continent.
They are particularly interested in hunting bison, moose, wood grouse and wolves. The wolf is almost extinct and protected in the EU, yet in Belarus the wolf population grows. Visitors do not need to wait for a month to get a weapons licence since all state hunting companies offer it for rent. Last year, the revenues from hunting exceeded $2m, half of which came from foreigners.
B(r)est foot forward
The Brest Stocking Mill sent an unusual gift to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. The Canadian leader is known around the world for his brightly-coloured socks, which he often wears to official events. With this in mind, Brest residents decided to send a parcel to Mr Trudeau: a set of exclusive socks featuring the cartoon dog Snoopy.
“He loves original socks and we have been working to develop new designs recently. Our main goal is to expand knowledge about Belarus, so we wrote to him that our countries have much in common. A large Belarusian diaspora lives in Canada, and the world-famous ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky has Belarusian roots,” explains company director Siarhiej Žaŭniarovič. Trudeau’s aide recently confirmed that they received the parcel, writes the Minsk Times.
The state press digest is based on a review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media primarily convey 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.