Lukashenka in Italy, WTO, NASA, Bielavieža Forest – State Press Digest
This May state newspapers highlighted President Alexander Lukashenka's first journey to the EU in seven years. They also reported on the launch of works on the logistics centre in the Belarusian-Chinese industrial park, and an EBRD programme for water supply reform in Belarusian cities.
Belarusian IT geeks made headlines again, this time for reaching the final of the NASA innovative ideas contest, and green activists launch the second season of free bike rental in Minsk. Read about this and more in the latest edition of our State Press Digest.
Lukashenka chose Italy and the Vatican as his first EU destinations after a seven year break. Belarus Segodnya highlights Lukshenka's visit to Italy and his meeting with the Pope and Italian president Sergio Mattarella. This was the first visit by the Belarusian leader to the EU in seven years. Lukashenka explained that through this visit he aimed to thank Italy for its role in normalisation of relations with the west.
“Italy and the Vatican supported us in the toughest times and I have thanked them for that”, he said. As for the Pope, Lukashenka once again invited him to visit Belarus, and according to Lukashenka the Pope agreed to do so in the future. Lukashenka wants him to meet Orthodox Church leaders in Belarus and engage them in Belarus’ peacemaking efforts in Eastern Ukraine.
The first cargo train from China delivered materials for development of the Belarus-Chinese industrial park. The first train shipment of 41 containers with metal construction materials has travelled from China to Minsk, Belarus Segodnia reports. Currently the first residents of the park – China Merchants Company – are building a logistical centre. The centre will require 9,000 tonnes of metal, of which 5,500 will be purchased in Belarus and 3,500 shipped from China. The Chinese representative of the company explained that the railroad shipping took 16 days, while a sea route would have taken at least 45. “This is our first experiment of cross-border railroad shipping. This route is one of the logistic corridors of the New Silk Way”, he said.
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will finance modernisation of water supply systems. The bank will finance water purification projects in Slonim, Viciebsk and Baranavičy, Respublika reports. This is a part of a water reform project, in which Nordic investment bank, Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership and SIDA are also participating with a joint budget of €65m.
The reforms aim to make Belarusian water systems self-repaying and abolish subsidies for water supply to the population which make the system ineffective. By 2017 Belarusians are expected to pay the full price of the water service. The reforms include making communal service independent companies with their own decision making powers and business plans independent from local authorities. EBRD plans to expand the list of cities where such projects will be financed.
Belarus accelerates WTO accession efforts. Sielskaja Hazieta highlights developments on Belarus' path to WTO membership. Recently, the Belarusian delegation took part in the meeting of the WTO Council in Switzerland to discuss foreign trade regulation. Belarus is already forced to work according to the rules and regulations of the WTO, since a number of its Eurasian Economic Union partners are already WTO members. At the same time, however, the country does not receive the benefits that the fully-fledged members of the organisation enjoy.
Companies and industries subsidised by the state remain one of the key problems of Belarus' entry into the WTO, as it prohibits state aid to specific enterprises. Besides, Belarus has identified 1,500 production items that are at particular risk from WTO accession. However, the potential advantages will outweigh these risks, the newspaper believes.
Belarusian programmers' start-up ranked in the top-5 best innovative ideas for the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The international competition brought together 1,300 start-ups from 160 cities worldwide, writes Znamia Yunosti. In Minsk, the hackaton Space Apps Challenge was held in the business incubator of the Hi-Tech Park.
The Belarusian IT-project Wake Up NEO came in the top 25 in the People's Choice category and later reached the final. A quartet of programmers and the head of the Minsk planetarium within 48 hours developed a unique service that helps to calculate and estimate the orbit of an asteroid and determine the danger it poses to the Earth. The winners of the competition will have the opportunity to personally observe the launch of the NASA spacecraft from Cape Canaveral.
Green activists organise free bike rentals in Minsk. Respublika reported on the Dobry Rovar (Good Bicycle) project that is entering its second season in Minsk with support from green activists. Volunteers gathered old bikes and bike parts from all over the city and soon created a fleet of 50 bikes. This was the first such project in a former Soviet country and in the first season 3,000 people used the service. Twelve spots with bikes are located at the junction of the city's main streets. To take a bike, one must register via an online system and retrieve a bike from a nearby rental spot.
Animal Planet documentary on Belarus' primeval forest hailed. Holas Radzimy tells the story of the film The Primeval Forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, made by the TV channel Animal Planet in 2015. Over a month the film crew wandered the primeval forest with the assistance of biologists from the national park. According to biologist Mikalaj Čarkas, this was the best film in the history of Bielavieža forest filming, as it managed to show the full diversity of its flora and fauna.
The film also recounts the vast conservation works which employees of the National Park are busy with daily. In 2015, a presidential edict granted visa-free three-day entry to foreign citizens if they provide documents confirming the order of tourist services in the Bielavieža National Park.
The State Press 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.
Environmentalists v Church, Intellectual Club, Internet Control – Civil Society Digest
Environmentalists clash with the Catholic Church over a city park. Urban Myths are looking for funding for new murals. Crowdfuding helps to finance civil society projects. Belarusian reporter recovers from KGB moral damages for unlawful detention.
Amendments to Internet control prepared secretly from the public. Nobel prize winner Svetlana Aleksievich will open an intellectual club in Minsk. What do Belarusians Think public discussion on 2 June will dissect pension reform. This and more in the new edition of Civil Society Digest.
Sixth episode of The City reality show continues to acquaint with urban activists and educational program for them. In this week episode, the fellows painted the fence and removed the trash in a park in the rhythm of capoeira. Organised by the Centre for Cultural Management, The City weekly reports on 20 grassroots activists who fight for the prize money to implement social projects on the ground.
And park, and church. How it's possible to agree. Andrej Jahoraŭ, the Centre for European Transformation, parses a local conflict over the construction of the church, followed by the cutting of trees in the Minsk park Katoŭka. The expert believes that the issue isn’t in ecology or violations of the rights of believers, but in decision-making at the local level. The conflict is caused by the practice adopted in Belarus when the society is actually excluded from the decision-making processes.
Urban Myths festival opens a new season. The project brings prominent street artists to Belarus to create a series of murals based on local content. Now in Minsk, the Spain artist Deih is trying to combine his traditional theme of Universe with the Belarusian mythology. In 2015, street art community Signal organised the first Urban Myths festival in Minsk with two graffiti rated within the top 10 of the month in the world.
Crowdfunding platforms report their achievements. Talaka.by informs that for the recent 12 months 203 new projects have been posted on the platform; the fastest Belarus' crowdfunding campaign was completed for 8 hours – raising money for a known athlete to attend competitions abroad. Fro the recent month MaeSens.by has collected Br365 mil (around $18,6K) for assisting creative, social and charity projects.
Book about Piotr Martsev collects money through crowdfunding. Kyky.org chief editor Sasha Romanova publishes a provocative book of memoirs about Piotr Martsev, businessman and founder of the Belarusian independent newspapers BDG and Imya. A crowdfunding platform Ulej.by hosts a campaign to raise money on the printing of the book. For the first two days, the campaign has collected more than 62 million rubles (around $3,1K) – 41% of the required amount.
Nobel laureate Svetlana Aleksievich to open intellectual club in Minsk. Aleksievich informed on her plans during the master class organised by Press Club Belarus. Starting from September, the Club's meetings will be held in the Minsk TUT.BY gallery, with the participation of the world famous intellectuals. The Club will have its website to provide information on the lectures and invited guests.
Presence Code anthology. On May 18, Flying University and the Belarus Collegium presented an Anthology of 2000-2015 Belarusian thinking titled Presence Code. The anthology allows seeing the intellectual and cultural contribution made in 2000-2015 and contains the texts of different genres and styles – manifestos, metaphysical reasoning, criticism and others to understand Belarus.
Interaction between state and civil society
Reporter gets moral damage compensation for unlawful imprisonment in KGB. In 2012, a reporter Anton Surapin spent a month in the KGB detention centre for allegedly aiding the teddy bear airdrop team. Now, with the help of BAJ lawyers, Surapin won 8 million rubles (around $400) for the moral damage. This is the first precedent in years when a person, who had been recognised a political prisoner, succeeded in his claim for compensation.
Amendments to Internet control prepared secretly from the public. On May 16, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) got an answer from the Ministry of Information on its request to reveal details on drafting a new law to control the Internet. The Minister answered that BAJ’s request “had been taken into account” without any other clarifications.
Activist held in ‘cycling case’ faces formal charges. Dzmitry Palijenka, an activist detained after the brutal dispersal of the Critical Mass cycling event on April 29, has been officially charged with using violence against a police officer (Article 364 of the Criminal Code). On May 12, three more cyclist activists were fined of Br840,000 (around $45). Environmental CSOs have launched a campaign and flashmobs to support participants of the Critical Mass.
What Belarusians think on pension reform. The topic of the pension reform’s implications will be discussed on June 2, in the Minsk Gallery TUT.BY with online broadcasting. A BEROC expert will present economic impacts on the pension system because of the ageing of the population. A series of live discussions What Do Belarusians Think is organised by OEEC in partnership with the Belarusian Research Council, Pact and supported by USAID.
Infographics on European Cafe's results. The project European Cafe – Open Space of Europe has summed up the results of a customs survey to get feedback on its activity. Since 2011, the project aimed at integration of the Belarusian society into the European space, has organised 60 lectures with experts from 16 countries, with over 3,000 people attended. 96% of respondents answer that they have a positive impression of the project. The infographics was made with the methodological support of Pact.
Emigre politician makes trip to Belarus. Opposition Belarusian politician Siarhiej Navumčyk arrived in Minsk on May 24 on his first visit to Belarus in 20 years. The 55-year-old politician works in Prague for the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In September 2015, opposition politicians Alieś Michalievič and Viačaslaŭ Siŭčyk returned to Belarus after years of self-imposed exile.