Minsk City Guide, Street Theatre Festival, Movaveda – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Foreigners coming to Minsk for the Ice Hockey World Championship get useful tips what to see and do in the city. Digital magazine 34mag.net has revised its Minsk guide for English-speaking tourists
Budzma launches a new cultural campaign ‘Be Belarusian Women’.
Movaveda, a new language course starts soon and invites Belarusians to learn their native language.
Guides to the IHWC in Minsk. An avant-garde digital magazine 34mag.net has updated English Minsk guide for the IIHF World Championship 2014. Now the guide has more sections like transport, lodging, coffeehouses, pubs, cultural sights as well an interactive map. Some other thematic guidebooks have been released by CSOs to the IHWC – information for foreign journalists by BAJ and Solidarity with Belarus Information Office, useful tips to keep safe by Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Penal Reform Int, description of touristic sites by Belarus Digest.
New courses on Belarusian language launched in Minsk. The courses titled as Movaveda start on May 22. The lessons are to be conducted weekly, on Thursdays. The courses have already attracted a wide public attention due to their bright promotional videos based on the known movies – Sherlock and Language, 300 Linguists, and Ivan Vasiljevich Changes his Language.
The project ABC Business for Rural Youth summed up the results. On 3 May Youth Business Ideas Fair was held in Smarhon, Hrodna voblasc. The Fair announced winners of the contest on promoting business and creative initiatives of rural youth. Twelve projects of pupils and students got to the final; the first place went to a project on computer literacy for older people. The contest was organized by the local NGO Selchanka, local charity fund Ahinski Northern Athens in cooperation with local authorities and business companies.
New project from Budzma for females. The cultural campaign Budzma invites Belarusian women to participate in a new project Be Belarusian Females that provides the thematic meetings and discussions, sharing experiences and finding new solutions. At the first stage the most active participants will attend a workshop Women Go! that will be held in Warsaw (Poland) in June-July 2014.
Change the World Together! exhibition. Change the World Together! exhibition was opened on 3 May in the Centre of Modern Arts (Minsk) with the support of World without Borders Charitable NGO, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, etc. The exhibition presents the works of persons with mental and physical disabilities and aims to draw public attention to their problems as well as integrate them into the society on the principles of respect and understanding. The exhibition works until 30 May.
Education programme at the Street Theatre Festival. On 10-11 May Minsk hosted artists from Europe to participate in the Second Minsk Street Theatre Festival and International Festival of Street Arts Grand Teatro. This year a partner of the forum is the International Consortium EuroBelarus that has prepared an extensive educational program – free lectures and discussions about the theatre, workshops on juggling, interactive theatre and performance, work on images of living sculptures, etc.
Govori Pravdu campaign is looking for MPs who said "Yes". Govori Pravdu campaign made a call to every member of a Parliament to appoint a meeting about People's referendum on behalf of 50 000 citizens who signed petition supporting referendum. The campaign is going to meet each MP next few months to ask how they treat the priority issues raised by the People's referendum and put the talks into Internet. As only 43 out of 110 MPs knew when they are going to meet their voters, the activists proposed to the Parliament their assistance to create one subpage on the web with a timetable of MPs meetings.
Statement of CSOs in connection with the deaths of people in Odessa and Eastern Ukraine. On 6 May the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum issued a statement in connection with the deaths of people in Odessa and Eastern Ukraine. The statement urges the international community to take action to help resolve the situation, in particular to halt Russian aggression towards Ukraine.
Interaction between state and civil society
Preventive detentions ahead of IHWC. Belarusian authorities continue practise of preventive detentions of its citizens ahead of Ice Hockey World Championship 2014. In general, the activists are being detained on similar grounds such as "disorderly conduct" and "disobedience to the law-enforcement officials". As of 9 May about 30 activists were sentenced to administrative arrests; they together will spend 432 days in jail.
Andrej Hajdukou released. On 8 May Andrej Hajdukou was released from the Viciebsk jail at the expiration of his term. He was convicted on 1 July 2013 for "attempt to establish cooperation with the special service, security or intelligence agency of a foreign state" and sentenced to 1.5 years in prison. Andrej Hajdukou was in the list of political prisoners of the Human Rights Centre Viasna.
Minister of Culture met with the head of Tuzin.fm. On 7 May Minister of Culture of Belarus, Boris Svetlov met with Sergei Budkin, Head of the independent music portal Tuzin.fm. The meeting was held at the Ministry of Culture and primarily touched on a project Re: Piesniary, dedicated to the 45th anniversary of the famous Belarusian band. Sergei Budkin also raised the issue of the recent refusals to certificate concerts for a bunch of independent Belarusian artists.
TBM contributed to the creation of a new envelope. The state-run entity Belposhta recently released a new envelope within a series Famous people of Belarus, dedicated to a public figure Iosif Hashkevich (diplomat, orientalist, naturalist). This was a proposal of the Belarusian Language Society NGO to create such an envelope.
Europe Day in Belarus. To mark Europe Day 2014, Embassies of EU Member States in Belarus and the Delegation of the EU to Belarus present a program of events. The year 2014 marks 100 years since the start of WWI, a turning point in the history of Europe, and the 10th anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement. Some of the events on this year's program are themed accordingly, but there's something in it for everyone – hockey fans and gourmands, researchers and cinema goers, music lovers and history buffs.
Support Program for Belarus starts the 7th phase of the German-Belarusian partnership. The main objective of the Program is to assist non-state actors, together operating under the German- Belarusian partnership initiatives, in collaboration with state organisations for the sustainable development of the society at the national and regional levels. The Program calls for proposals from Belarusian registered NGOs, German non-profit organisations, state institutions and government bodies, as well as business entities in partnership with NGOs. Applications should be submitted until 15 July 2014.
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.
The United Nation of Belarus?
Belarusians resemble Ukrainians in many respects, but they do not exhibit any kind of the politically relevant dualism between western and eastern regions, which greatly contributed to the recent Ukrainian events. The urge to find the same patterns in different countries with different histories often results in confusing outcomes.
Professor Aleh Manayeu, director of Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Research corroborated this view with the results of March public opinion survey conducted by his institute. Presenting them last month in Minsk he commented that the population of Western and Eastern Belarus do not differ in their political views.
Western Belarus Is Geographical Notion
"There are some differences, yet not of a Ukrainian magnitude. The values' cleavage runs along the line of “supporters” and “opponents” of the government,” said Manayeu.
“To simplify, we can say that the residents of large cities are more dynamic, more pro-European, more pro- democracy and market economy than residents of small towns”. Manayeu emphasised the point that small town dwellers in Belarus do not differ substantially in their political views throughout the country.
Today, Belarus includes six provinces which have essentially a shared historical fate and very close anthropological traits. Only the Paliessie region in the south (now divided between Belarus and Ukraine, as well as inside Belarus between Brest and Homiel provinces) had some more peculiarities due to its isolation in the marshes.
The religious split between Orthodox and Catholic believers led to some confrontations in the past but not in modern times. It became muzzled after Belarusians switched en masse between these denominations as well as Protestantism and the Uniate Church.
Exploitation of Orthodox and Catholic churches by Russia and Poland increased the religious scepticism of Belarusians Read more
Exploitation of Orthodox and Catholic churches by Russia and Poland, respectively, increased the religious scepticism of Belarusians. According to two Gallup surveys from 2009 and 2011, Belarus was among the top-10 of most irreligious of nations in the world.
So what historical background and political significance does “Western Belarus” possess? In Ukraine, centuries of separate political, socioeconomic and cultural development resulted in the emergence of “Western Ukraine”.
In every election since 1991 it voted absolutely contrary to the population of Eastern Ukraine. Belarusian differences between the more Catholic West and more Orthodox East have never led to the emergence of any firm borders between them. Actually, “Eastern” and “Western” Belarus emerged only as a consequence of their separate existence of the two halves of the country between 1921 and 1939.
Back then, between the World Wars, the eastern half found itself in the Soviet Union. There the Bolshevik government created the Belarusian proto-state. In Soviet Belarus, modernisation accompanied wide-scale political repression while the development of modern Belarusian culture was carried out along side Communist indoctrination.
The western regions lived under an increasingly authoritarian and chauvinist Polish administration. It launched a policy of colonisation, closed most Belarusian organisations and neglected Western Belarus in terms of its socioeconomic and cultural development.
These unfavourable conditions effectively blocked the formation of a distinct Belarusian identity, alternative Belarusian culture and any democratic politics in the Polish-ruled regions. Furthermore, it drove almost every relatively important Western Belarusian institutions and activist to left-wing movements supported by communist Minsk and Moscow.
Levelling the Ground
After the reunification of Belarus in 1939, and especially after the Second World War the Soviet authorities worked on extinguishing regional differences. They removed many – although by far not all – Polish residents from the western regions.
Then came the aggressive modernisation of the West and construction of modern industrial facilities there. The Soviet Belarusian authorities completely changed the territorial administrative regions, mixing them as much as possible between provinces from both eastern and western districts.
Culturally, the communists suppressed both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. After decades of atheistic Soviet rule, Belarusians today display no strong religious feelings and are much more likely to fight each other over nearly any other issue besides but religion.
In recent two decades some intellectuals tried to revive the Western Belarusian myth as a more 'Belarusian' alternative to Soviet Belarusian heritage. Yet the Western Belarusian myth collapses before such simple facts as the Polish census of 1931 which registered Belarusians as a minority in Western Belarusian lands or statistics of Belarusian schools in Western Belarus whose numbers in late 1930s sat at zero.
More Belarusian Eastern Regions
Indeed, the 2009 public opinion survey conducted together by Sociological Laboratory Novak and Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies demonstrated that the most “Belarusian” was eastern Mahiloū province.
The main tenet of Belarusian identity remains one's attitude toward the Belarusian language. A majority of the Mahiloū region population expressed their desire to use Belarusian and claimed to have a good command of the language.
The province is undoubtedly Eastern Belarusian, Orthodox and borders Russia. Many reasons might explain this situation yet one stands out.
The Mahiloū region belonged to the core of Soviet Belarus since its beginnings. It means that the Bolshevik government conducted here the most profound policies of Belarusisation and it lasted longer than in other regions.
It is likely that linguists could find more people in the West speaking Belarusian and their language would sound less influenced by Russian.
Yet population in the Western regions have more vague and mixed identity and understanding of who they are and which language they speak. Quite often, even today one can hear in the West the notions of ruski [literally 'Ruthenian' sometimes misinterpreted as 'Russian'] for Orthodox and polski [literally 'Polish'] for Catholic.
As a counter argument allegedly proving the Belarusian nationalist credentials of the west, some analysts refer to the results of 1994 presidential election as the nationalist democrat candidate Zianon Pazniak achieved the best results in “Western Belarus.” Indeed, the 1994 race remains the only presidential election recognised as free and fair by all major political forces. Still, we shall not take those results at face value.
Pazniak got more than a quarter of all the votes (nowhere near half) in only nine districts out of 118. Some of these districts were rather small and they made up a tiny part of the 1921-39 “Western Belarus.” It could be just plain conservatism of voters which provided Pazniak with this level of support rather than nationalism.
Belarus demonstrates no tendency towards splitting or quarrelling along regional lines Read more
All in all, Belarus demonstrates no tendency towards splitting or quarrelling along regional lines. Of course, Belarusian language-linked culture remains neglected, yet the language situation does not differ significantly between regions.
Nobody is eradicating Belarusian, though every political force politicises it. The opposition often pretends to be the only defender of the Belarusian language. It undermines those who detach the language issue from politics.
The authorities prefer to do nothing to promote the language out of fear of unintentionally strengthening the opposition. As a result, the language disappears – throughout Belarus.
The good news is that Belarus may face many catastrophes but definitely not a split scenario akin to that of Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. Not only because the Belarusian government – unlike the former Ukrainian one – indeed controls the country, but because the nation effectively demonstrates that it is united.
Far too many analysts in recent months followed the temptation to use Ukrainian allusions to predict Belarusian future. That is a dubious approach, Belarus has its own problems, opportunities and specifics which require cautious handling of analogies with neighbouring nations.