Lukashenka’s Prize, $100 Exit Fee Contested, Belarusian Programmers – Western Press Digest
Belarusian programmers are a hot commodity on the international market. Belarusian ruler Alexandr Lukashenka and the state police of Belarus were awarded the Ig Noble Peace Prize for 2013. A Belarusian physician who criticised the government on youtube says that he is receiving psychotropic drug treatments against his will.
The fall out over the Uralkali-Belaruskali split continued to dominate western press coverage. Russian authorities ordered its oil firms to reduce exports to Belarus in response to Minsk’s actions in the dispute. In response Belarusian authorities report that an international warrant for the arrest of Uralkali’s leading shareholder have been issued, while Interpol denies the existence of any warrants being issued in connection. All this and more in the Western Press Digest.
$100 Exit Fee for Belarusian Citizens Contested by Activists – A petition against the recently announced presidential decision to introduce a $100 fee for Belarusians traveling abroad is circulating online according to RFE/RL. The Belarusian ruler announced the new fee as a means to have Belarusians buying domestic products, and not bringing back foreign products that are already being made in Belarus. RFE/RL reports that the activists principle argument is that such a fee violates their constitutional right to free movement.
Lukashenka Awarded 2013 Ig Noble Peace Prize – The annual Ig Noble prize ceremony recently took place at Harvard University. Ig Noble prizes are annual awards given to individuals or groups who have achieved unusual results and their honour achievements. According to the BBC’s coverage the president and state police of Belarus got it for “making public applause illegal and having arrested a one-armed man for the offence.”
Belarusian Programmers Competitive with India – Belarusian and other eastern European may have an edge in the programming world, as companies continue to look to outsource. Bloomberg’s coverage focuses on how companies like Belarusian founded Epam Systems Inc. and Ukrainian-based Ciklum as part of a new generation of creative programming companies growing thanks to their focus on innovation and strong programming culture. Programmers from the region are also doing very well in a large number of international competitions sponsored by industry giants such as Google and IBM, taking a majority of the prizes.
Detained Physician Receiving Psychiatric Treatment Against his Will – Belarusian Physician Ihar Pasnou was detained and forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital in August where they are administering psychotropic shots to him without his consent. According to RFE/RL, Pasnou attracted the attention of the authorities after posting videos on YouTube that were critical of local officials for not doing anything to better health care in the area. An opposition activist recently visited the physician and managed to smuggle out an audio recording of Pasnou describing his situation. In the audio recording, the physician recounts how he is receiving the shots with increasingly large dosages.
Disputed 2010 Presidential Elections the Subject of New Pro-Government Film – The BBC covered a recent dispute that arose in Belarus over a controversial new film about the 2010 Presidential Elections. Nonstop Media is reportedly developing the new film. The company had previously produced the UNDP-funded “Above the Sky”, who received a grant from the Belarusian Ministry Culture. According to the BBC, the film will tell the history of events in accordance with the official version. The news service described the events based on a recent article written by a former colleague of Nonstop Media’s producer (Sergei Zhdanovich), who had previously had a dispute with Zhdanovich while working on the “Above the Sky” series.
Russian Trade Dispute with Belarus part of a Growing Trend – The Financial Times reports on Russia’s efforts to dissuade republics of the former Soviet Union from getting any closer to non-Russian led economic and political entities. The publication cites the recent trade conflicts with Ukrainian chocolate and Moldovan wine as Russia’s approach to those countries whom are strengthening their economic and political ties with the EU. Belarus, a long-time ally of Russia, is being punished for its open attempts to secure financial support and investment from China, something that the Kremlin sees as an affront. The Financial Times also commented that the hard-ball politics that Moscow is using against its neighbours may backfire in November, where Ukraine and Moldova expect to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union.
Belarus Imprison Uralkali CEO and Seeks Largest Shareholder Next – The Washington Post reports that the arrest of Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner by Belarusian authorities was only the first step. Official Minsk is pursuing Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov of abuse of power in the aftermath of the joint Russian-Belarusian company’s split. The move to pursue Kerimov is seen as a response to Russia’s blocking of Belarusian exports and reduced level of oil imports into the country. While the Belarusian authorities stated that a warrant had been issued for Kerimov’s arrest by Interpol, but a statement issued by the organisation said that no warrants have been issued. The rift between two of the leading potash producers in the world is seen as part of a growing divide between Russia and Belarus.
Souring Russian-Belarusian Relations – RFE/RL reports that the recent rift in relations between Belarus and Russia over the detention of Uralkali’s CEO has significantly elevated tensions between the two nations. According to the publication, not only were the actions of the Belarusian authorities unexpected, but they have come as a genuine shock to both the Kremlin and Russian society. Russia’s response to the detention was quick and calculated: ban the import of any pork products from Belarus, cut discounted oil exports to the country, and threaten to block other key Belarusian exports from reaching Russia.
The move to detain Baumgertner may work out in Belarus’ favour, according to Andrei Suzdaltsev of the Higher School of Economics. According to the expert, Putin will be reluctant to have the Russian-led Customs Union be seen as weak or struggling, particularly while it tries to use it to bring countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia back under Russian influence.
Despite Potash Row, Russia’s Rosneft Moving Forward with Projects – Reuters reported that Rosneft has no plans to abandon its energy projects in Belarus. Igor Sechin, a close Putin ally and Rosneft CEO, met with Lukashenka recently to discuss the plans of Belarus’ largest supplier of oil. While cuts in the amount of oil that is exported to Belarus will see a decline, the reasons are not due to the current political situation, but rather due to infrastructure issues. According to Reuters, Sechin also remarked that the current rift around Belaruskali and Uralkali will not affect Rosneft’s work in Belarus, since they have stable relations.
Konstanty Kalinouski: A Contested Hero
At the start of September, the Belarusian journal ARCHE reported that two monuments commemorating Konstanty Kalinouski, a revolutionary contested in the official Belarusian history, disappeared in a town near Hrodna.
Konstanty Kalinouski remains a controversial figure, present in Belarusian, Lithuanian and Polish histories. To some scholars he symbolises patriotism, a set of ideals and courage, while others consider him a Polish noble who struggled against the tsarist Russia.
Very few, however, dispute that Kalinouski became a political symbol for the anti-Lukashenka opposition. During the post-elections demonstrations in 2006, the protesters symbolically renamed October Square, after the Bolshevik revolution, into Kalinouski square.
Although this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Kalinouski uprising, the state is not organising any official events. The initiative remains mainly in the hands of Belarusian civil society.
Publisher of first journal in the Belarusian language
Vincenty Konstanty Kalinouski was born in 1839 in Mostowlany, in the Hrodna region and today in Podlasie region of Poland. In those times, these lands belonged to the Russian empire.
Kalinouski turned his interest towards revolutionary activity against the tsarist regime during his legal studies in Saint-Petersburg. Back in Hrodna he continued his clandestine work. He supported the Belarusian language and published the first journal in a latin script version of Belarusian, Muzyckaja Prauda in 1861 and two other periodicals in Polish. Through the journal, Kalinouski encouraged peasants to struggle for independence from the tsarist empire.
The uprising is known in the Polish historiography as the January Uprising started in Warsaw in the winter of 1863. Kalinouski joined it at a later point and focused on getting peasants involved in the struggle. He led the uprising in the Hrodna region, as a part of the general struggle against the Russian Empire, an effort which Belarusian historians now call the Kalinouski uprising (paustannie Kalinouskaha in Belarusian).
Kalinouski at some point had disputes with the Polish leadership. The sensitive issues included the idea of an independent Belarusian-Lithuanian state, that would exist in some form of federation with Poland. Lithuania (Litva) in this historical context differs from the territory of modern Lithuania. Litva referred to the territories which covered the lands that make up a large part of the present-day Belarus and partly the region around Vilnius in today’s Lithuania.
In the end, his supposed allies betrayed Kalinouski and the Russian authorities hung the 26-year old Kastus in Wilno (now Vilnius in Lithuania) in March 1864.
Kalinouski: a Belarusian activist or a Polish terrorist?
Today for many Belarusian activists Kalinouski stands for an independent Belarusian state, a distinctly Belarusian national identity and the proper position of the Belarusian language.
He has also become somewhat of a prisoner to historical politics and the present government’s current pro-Russian orientation. Currently the authorities allow Kalinouski to exist in a public space, while at the same time they continue to be rather reserved when it comes to more serious forms of commemoration of the uprising.
The position of the authorities has its own ideological explanation. Quite simply, the Kalinouski was struggling to overthrow the tsarist regime and make Belarus-Lithuania an independent state and thus the Kalinouski uprising proves that Belarusians did not always support Russian rule in the past. In any event, the commemoration could perhaps undermine the myth of Belarusians that Belarusians and Russians never had any problems in the past.
According to historian Andrei Kisztynou, the rising of 1863 did not have an anti-Russian character. Its slogan “For our and your freedom” referred to all nations which were part of the Tsarist empire, including the Russians themselves. This is why the Soviet authorities promoted Kalinouski as a fighter for the rights of the poor. To this day, thanks to Soviet support, one can still find many Kalinouski streets in Belarusian cities.
Another historian, Viktar Khurcik, argued that at the time a Belarusian identity did not exist, which means that Kalinouski and other participants of the uprising in the Hrodna region held a Polish identity. On the other hand, Ales Smalianchuk has pointed out that Kalinouski used primarily Belarusian language in his writings.
Kalinouski as a political symbol of the Belarusian opposition
These days, the Belarusian opposition view Kalinouski as a political symbol. Many Belarusian activists argue that his support for the Belarusian language and his political standpoint have remained valid, particularly now.
In 2006, Belarusian protesters symbolically renamed the October square, named after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and where they contested the unfair presidential elections, as Kalinouski Square.
In the aftermath of these events in Minsk, the Polish authorities founded the Kalinouski Scholarship. It offers financial support for youth that due to their oppositional activity would not be able to continue their studies at Belarusian universities. It also supports more senior figures such as Andrei Sannikau and Ales Michalevich, former presidential candidates. The program is meant to attract individuals who have a deep respect for Belarusian culture, language and politics. Those people should also have potential to become a member of the future elite of Belarus.
Social awareness and Kalinouski
In March the Independent Research Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research examined the attitudes of Belarusians towards various political activists both from present and the past. The data showed that positive opinions towards Kalinouski’s stood at 11.7% among the surveyed. This puts him in fifth place, just after Margaret Thatcher. Alexander Lukashenka enjoys the highest rating at 20.9%.
IISEPS noted that such a result is rather disappointing. Over the span of a few months Kalinouski often appeared in various publications. Historians presented him as a person with unclear national identification, Polish or Belarusian, which made him less popular, the Institute explained.
In addition, his attitude towards the Orthodox Church also also could cause negative opinions. According to IISEPS, it could be perhaps due to his unfriendly stance towards Russian Orthodoxy.
Kastus remains particularly popular among young Belarusians, aged 18-20. Almost three times fewer Belarusians aged 60 approve of calling him a hero. Nasha Niva argued that both Poland and Lithuania would commemorate the events from 1863-64 officially and in Belarus, it will occur only through the initiative of civil society.
In August the Belarusian news portal Naviny.by reported that the authorities opposed an initiative by Minsk citizens to raise a statute for Kalinouski. The initiators gathered 3,500 signatures to support the application, but they never received any positive feedback on the project idea from the authorities.
Scholars of various disciplines in the humanities will have a chance to discuss the role of Kastus Kalinouski in the creation of the Belarusian nation. The Anglo-Belarusian Society is organising a conference Kastus Kalinouski and the Process of Nation-Building in Belarus. The conference will take place in March 2014 in London. The Society has already announced a call for proposals.
Kastus Kalinouski remains a complex character, one that may be seen as a representative of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania made up by parts of territories of three countries: Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, all of which shared an idea of independence from the Russian empire.