Mens Club, Strikes, Illegal Polls – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Strikes of entrepreneurs in Belarus dominated the public opinion over the last days. How the authorities reacted to the protests?Budzma`s ADNAK attracted a large crowd with its innovative award ceremony.
The Council of Europe together with Belarusian authorities organised a round table on death penalty. Treci Sektar, a Belarusian NGO, decided to do something for Belarusian men and launched the Mens Club as a platform for public discussion.
Interaction between State and Civil Society
Entrepreneurs strike in Belarus. About 70% of entrepreneurs in markets and shopping centres of Belarus did not come to work in Minsk and regions in the day of the strike on 27 June informed the analytical centre of the Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs held a one-day strike against the introduction the technical regulations of the Customs Union "On the safety of products of light industry." The entrepreneurs protest got wide coverage in both independent and state media. On the same day one of the strike organisers, the leader of "Perspectiva" NGO Anatoly Shumchanka was detained and sentenced for 5 days of administrative arrest.
Liability for illegal polls affirmed in law. The House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus adopted the amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences and Procedural Code of Administrative Offences. Among others, the new law provides liability for illegal conducting polls (Article 9.28). Lawyer Yuri Chausov believes that the law may enter into force as early as this summer.
Against the death penalty in Belarus. On 21 June the House of Charity in Minsk hosted a roundtable "Religion and the death penalty". Most participants, including the Metropolitan Filaret, spoke out against retaining the death penalty in Belarus. The event was organised by the Council of Europe in cooperation with the Belarusian authorities. The round table was attended by representatives of the churches, Belarusian officials, delegates of the Council of Europe, diplomats and human rights activists.
Eco Forum cancelled. Scheduled on 28-30 in Polotsk, Eco Forum of CSOs was cancelled in two days before the opening and postponed till the fall. The reason is that authorities denied providing a venue for the event, as well as the hotel referred to technical problems. About 100 participants among them representatives of Belarusian environmental CSOs, foreign experts and the media were registered to participate in the Forum.
Public Council without public organisations. 21 people have become members of the recently established Public Council under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, whose first meeting takes place on 28 June. All members are representatives of arts, culture, religion, law, industry, sports, the media, and parliamentarians. The Council, however, does not include any representative of CSOs.
Attorney returned her license. Minsk attorney Tamara Garayeva, whose license was revoked after she refused to defend Irina Khalip, reportedly was reinstated as a licensed advocate. According to the Belarus Ministry of Justice, she followed the procedure and applied for reinstatement of her license after 3 years of its revocation. According to the Ministry representative, none of the other eight disbarred lawyers applied for a reinstatement of their license, “because they found better-paying jobs”.
State-run radio provides space for CSO leader. On 29 June the First National Channel of Belarusian Radio holds an online conference with the Chairman of the Presidium of the Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship, Vladimir Karyagin. The topic of the online event is "Business development in Belarus."
Social Weekend competition. On June 20, online charity platform "MaeSens" launched a competition for social projects Social Weekend. The organizers invite others to take part in the competition of projects which propose a solution to social problems. Participants will have an opportunity to get an expert opinion from a competent jury, find an investor for the project, as well as to win grants in the amount of $ 1,000, $ 700 and $ 500 dollars and create their own fundraising page on the platform MaeSens.by.
34mag launches "Bicycle" project. An interactive map for cyclists that covers all of Belarus and answers where it is possible to rent a bike, repair it, etc. The project aims to collect all bicycle spots in one place and thus to make Belarus a truly bike-friendly country. "Bicycle" is an interactive map, so it provides the ability to add valuable points to all users.
AIESEC established in Belarus. The Committee of the largest student organization in the world after several attempts has finally been registered in Minsk. AIESEC (Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales) has 82,000 members from 131 countries. The main activity is organization of training and youth exchanges abroad, organized by the students themselves.
Children's Help Line celebrates its 2nd anniversary. On July 7, Nationwide Children's Help Line 8-801-100-1611 celebrates two years of its activity. For 2 years the line operators have received more than a thousand calls totaling 8,592 minutes. International NGO "Ponimanie" with the support of the Minsk City Executive Committee invites to join the celebration which will be held at the Gorki Children’s Park in Minsk.
AD.NAK! ceremony in Minsk. On 27 June the award ceremony of the IV Festival of Belarusian-language advertising took place in Minsk. The event was organised by the campaign "Budzma!" together with online portal Marketing.by and other promotional companies. Among the goals of the Festival is to collect the best marketing and advertising products and pay attention of the professional community to Belarusian language. This year, 314 works by 105 participants were submitted to participate in the Festival’s contest.
Men Club in Grodno. The first public discussion and educational club for middle-aged men (30-45 years) launched in Grodno. Members of the Club will have an opportunity to analyze their own life experience, discover their capacity, to expand the circle of friends, and to obtain useful life skills. Club meetings will be held once a week on Saturdays.
Sport event for wheelchair users. On 22 June in Minsk, Republican Association of Wheelchair Users conducted a sport event in memory of the legendary Belarusian wheelchair user Nikolai Kolbasko. The agenda included sports, workshops, exhibitions, and individual program for children. The event was aimed to attract wheelchair users to an active lifestyle and physical education, as well as exchange of experience in the integration and rehabilitation of wheelchairs.
The Night of Culture with Belarusians. On 5-6 July one of the most important events in Vilnius "The Night of Culture" will be held for the seventh time. This year Belarusian artists and CSOs will take an active part in the open-air event and present seven Belarusian projects in the Old Town of Vilnius. Entrance to all events is free. Coordination of Belarusian projects is implemented by the youth association "StudAlliance".
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.
Svetlana Alexievich: Belarusian Language is Rural and Literary Unripe
Last week, the Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of German Publishers and Booksellers Association have chosen the Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich as the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize.
In a subsequent interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Alexievich said that she did not write in Belarusian as this language was “a rural language”, which led to discussions in the Belarusian media with many people questioning whether Alexievich was a good choice for this award.
The association has awarded the prize yearly since 1950. It comes with €25,000 prize money, and the award ceremony will take place in October in the historically-charged St. Paul’s Church of Frankfurt (Main) during the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Over the past years, awardees have been writers from countries where freedom of speech and press is threatened: In 2011, during the Arab spring, the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal received the prize, and last year the dissident Liao Yiwu from China. It is the aim of the Association of German Publishers and Booksellers to support writers who give, by means of their works, a voice to the population which might otherwise remain unheard.
Award gives a voice to suppressed people
Svetlana Alexievich distinguishes herself as one of few writers who show the sufferings of individuals during the Soviet Union and its aftermath as an alternative to its official historiography. The writer, born in 1948 in the Western Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk is daughter of a local and a Belarusian communist, grew up in a Belarusian village. She concentrates on topics which are kept quiet by the official historiography, like the catastrophe of Chernobyl and the war in Afghanistan as well as the Stalin era. Official discourses do not deal with the feelings and consequences of those traumatic events on the population.
After completing her studies of journalism at Belarusian State University, Svetlana Alexievich worked as a teacher and a journalist in Minsk. She tried several literary genres and soon developed a literary method to enable "the closest possible portrayal of life as it truly is". Alexievich applied this method for the first time in her book "War’s Unwomanly Face" which she completed in 1983. In this book, the author uses a series of interviews to examine the fate of female Soviet soldiers in the Second World War.
For her subsequent work, "Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War"(Tsinkovye mal'chiki, 1989) she completed more than five hundred interviews with veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan as well as with the mothers of soldiers who died in that war – the so-called "zinky boys" whose remains were brought home in zinc coffins. Publication of this book forced her to appear several times before a court in Minsk starting in 1992, although she was ultimately never convicted of any crime. That happened before Lukashenka came to power in 1994, in what was then a relatively democratic Belarus.
Alexievich’s approach: oral history from the bottom up
During an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the writer recalled how one of the soldiers’ mothers accused her of having invented all she wrote in the interview after her son, who died during his first mission in Afghanistan, had been declared a hero post mortem.
With growing attacks on her work and her person, the writer went into exile and lived in France, Sweden and Germany. Alexievich moved back to Minsk in 2012 where she is working on her next book which will be published in German in September and shortly afterwards in Russia.
While Belarusians consider Svetlana Alexievich a courageous woman – she is often labelled the moral memory of the Soviet Union – her interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung provoked heated discussions in Belarusian independent media. Since it was published last week, the writer has made a series of statements that raised questions about her understanding of contemporary Belarus.
It is symbolic that the award for one of the most famous Belarusian contemporary writers has not been mentioned in any Belarusian media until the publication of this interview. Alexievich has problems in Minsk, she is not allowed to appear in public and it is impossible to buy her books in official stores. They are, however, distributed through online shops.
FAZ interview: Correspondent does not speak Russian well enough?
A wave of protest went through the Belarusian independent media when Alexievich was quoted to have said the the Belarusian language was “rural and literary unripe” («Беларуская мова вельмі вясковая і літаратурна нявысьпелая»,), which is why she chose to write in Russian only and considered herself to belong to Russian culture.
The Belarusian Radio Svaboda asked Alexievich for a statement. The writer denied having said something like this. Alexievich emphasised that she was interviewed by the Moscow correspondent of the newspaper, Kerstin Holms, and assumed that the journalist either did not speak Russian well enough to understand her correctly or that she interpreted what she wanted to hear. She could not have said such a thing, Alexievich affirmed, as it did not at all correspond to her convictions. The writer claimed that she had always said she had “two mothers: The Belarusian village, in which I grew up, and the Russian culture, in which I was educated”.
This reaction of the writer seems very astonishing as it casts a shadow on the judgement of the famous writer. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is the most reputable German daily. Its Moscow correspondent has been working on Russia and with the Russian language for a long time. Even if the journalist failed to understand what Alexievich meant, she could have easily asked a colleague for help, as the interview was recorded, as it is common journalistic practise. Kerstin Holms, in a statement to Radio Svaboda, emphasised this fact and pointed out that the “two mothers” were not mentioned in this interview.
The more statements the writer makes to clarify attitude towards Belarusian culture and language, the more confusing it gets. Read more
Even after this calm reaction from the German journalist, Alexievich did not refrain from further challenging her in a subsequent interview to Belarusian news web site naviny.by. According to the writer, the lack of knowledge of the situation in Belarus by the Moscow correspondent lead to the alleged interpretation of Alexievich's words.
After this interview, however, questions occur whether Alexievich herself knows Belarus well. She says that it is "a miracle if you hear anyone speaking Belarusian in the streets". In another part of the interview she explained that "there [was] nothing offensive in calling the Belarusian culture a village culture, i.e. people's culture". The more statements the writer makes to clarify attitude towards Belarusian culture and language, the more confusing it gets. This casts shadows over her work, as her documentary style of writing relies on interviews and their exact transcription.
Unfortunately, open and broad discussions about tragedies of the past and present remain difficult in Belarus. The great majority of Belarusians neither heard about the prize awarded to Alexievich, nor about her new book, nor about her statements. Moreover, the interview Alexievich gave to FAZ and her subsequent statements considered by many as evidence of lack of integrity that may put her whole work into question.
So far it remains unclear whether the writer and the German journalist have misunderstood each other or whether Alexievich for some reason chose to make a provocative statement.