Minsk Court will not Evict a Protestant Group – Civil Society Digest
The Marketplace of Youth Initiatives announces results in Brest. Fond of Ideas conducts a talk show on corporate social responsibility. The Liberal Club presents an alternative view on public administration reform. The Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities presents national polling results. Euroradio accreditation in Belarus is renewed. Online security for dummies.
INTERACTION BETWEEN STATE AND CIVIL SOCIETY
New Life Church ordered to vacate its prayer house. The Minsk City Economic Court has ordered New Life Church to vacate its prayer house by 5 December. The church council decided that they will stay in the prayer house 24 hours a day and ask God to bring the authorities to their senses and show them what to do and how best to react to their actions. On 4 December, the owners of the building (Minsk municipal authority) withdrew their claim and the eviction court proceedings were discontinued.
The Ministry of Culture has replied to the complaint of the public round table "Let us protect Kurapaty" about the construction of Bulbash-Hall in Kurapaty tract. "It has been discovered that the construction was started in the protected zone. Moreover, the Ministry of Culture has ordered Belrestinvest and Minsk Province Executive Committee to stop the construction in the protected zone of historical and cultural value", according to the letter signed by deputy Minister of Culture Victar Kurash.
Investigative Committee will cooperate with NGO. According to the signed Engagement Plan, the Investigative Committee and the NGO Understanding will closely cooperate in the field of prevention of illegal acts against minors and the investigation of indecent treatment of children.
Community issues in state newspaper. A community based initiative of Minsk district Masyukovschina has ensured that the largest state newspaper, Sovetskaya Belorussia, posted a publication on 27 November devoted to an actual community issue: reducing queues in clinics through their informatics. The journalists used examples from other clinics to aillustrate the pros and cons of adopting information technology in healthcare.
Thirty-three rights groups call for release of Byalyatski. The 33 member organisations of the Civic Solidarity Platform have urged the Belarusian authorities to release human rights defender Ales Byalyatski and allow the Vyasna human rights group to continue its operations. The statement condemned the recent confiscation of Vyasna’s office, an apartment in a residential building in Minsk that belonged to Byalyatski prior to his conviction.
Customs to burn "Belarus Press Photo 2011" albums. Such a conclusion can be reached after reading the official letter of Ashmyany customs sent to Belarusian photographer Alyaksandr Vasyukovich, from whom they confiscated 41 copies of the photo album on 12 November. The album was published officially and brought to Belarus a year ago.
Belarus renews accreditation for Euroradio bureau. The accreditation of Euroradio's bureau in Minsk is valid through to 10 November 2013. The correspondents bureau was opened in Belarus in November 2009. There are 10 accredited journalists, including Euroradio's Editor-in-Chief and Bureau Director Vital Zyblyuk.
CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVITIES
Market place of youth initiatives in Brest. The project for civil activists known as Market place of youth initiatives were summed up in Brest. This year it was attended by 24 young people who have implemented 47 socially significant initiatives. The project is implemented by the Happy Childhood foundation together with the Regional Development Agency Dzedzich.
Drug market reduced. Analysts of the civil initiative Antimak (Against Opium Poppy) stated that the trade in smoking mixture in Belarus has been reducing. The initiative's coordinator, Alexander Shpakovsky notes that there are no official statistics yet, but the drug market has become quiet after the adoption of the Law "On narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors and analogs" in October 2012. The Antimak civil initiative launched in 2008 is struggling against drug-addiction in order to preserve the life and future of Belarusians.
CSR talk show. On 27 November, Fond of Ideas conducted a talk show titled Corporate Social Responsibility 2013: expectations and opportunities for business. The event was attended by representatives of business, governmental bodies, CSOs and media. The starting point of the discussion became the recent Fond of Ideas’ market research on "Implementation of the principles of corporate social responsibility at the Belarusian enterprises".
Alternative view of public administration reform. On 27 November, in Minsk, the Liberal Club together with governmental experts in public administration presented a joint brief paper with an alternative view of the future reform of the Belarusian public administration system. The document explains why Belarus needs these reform and what risks will accompany it.
Web portal usebelarusy.by launches voting for seven treasures of Belarus. "Treasures of Belarus" are to be determined in seven categories: names, events, nature, architecture, food, ceremonies, and songs. In each category, visitors can vote for the nominees from seven different epochs of Belarusian history. To be launched on Christmas Eve, the popular vote offers all Belarusians not only to identify the brightest people and events, but also once again to see the richness of Belarusian history.
An Online Security for Dummies website has been created to help ordinary users, who are not programmers and system administrators to better understand computer security.
Avangard flash mob. On 25 November in Minsk, a flash mob was held on the initiative of youth NGO Avangard, headed by Marat Abramovski. Due to the cold weather, it was decided to conduct the mob in the Minsk indoor shopping centre New Europe. The event brought together about 100 participants who started to dance at the scheduled time.
New survey of DisRight Office. On 26 November, the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities presented the results of a poll to identify some aspects of treatment of people with disabilities. The survey was carried out by IISEPS in the fall of 2012. In particular, the Office coordinator Sergei Drozdovskiy noted that during the last 2 years negative trends remain in place: society's attitude to education and employment of people with disabilities as well as governmental policy in the field of disability have not changed.
Service to find work for people with disabilities launched in Belarus. HeadHunter Belarus, RABOTA.TUT.BY project launched a new service for marking jobs available to people with disabilities. It will help to quickly find qualified job for vulnerable groups Organizers made reference to a recent national survey conducted by IISEPS at the request of the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities. From 15 November to 15 December in Minsk, the BelAPDIiMI NGO is conducting an "Anti Indifference" campaign to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The purpose of the campaign is to show that people with disabilities can and should participate fully in society, and society can become more open and compassionate in accepting such people.
Diaspora Congress in Tallinn. On 23-25 November, Tallinn (Estonia) hosted the V Congress of the New Belarusian Diaspora in Europe and the U.S., which was attended by about 50 participants. The Third Way organisation, established by a political refugee Pavel Morozov, hosted the event. At the Congress the participants discussed the strategy for 2013-2015, Internet-primaries as a method of choosing a coordinating council of opposition, and opportunities for working with the diaspora.
Social Orphans in Belarus: Alcohol Takes Its Toll
The number of cases of parents being deprived of their parental rights in Belarus is very high compared to other European countries.
On the whole, Belarus brings up more than 25,000 boys and girls in children's institutions of various types. That is about 1.4 per cent of all children, or every 70th child in Belarus.
Every year state authorities send to children’s institutions about 4,000 of children deprived of parental care. True orphans make up a small fraction of the total number.
Deprivation of parental rights because of alcohol abuse is one the most common reason for this.
Childhood’s Cruel Rival
In an absolute majority of cases when children are sent to orphanages, their parents, or at least one of them, are alive. But at some point they found their small offsprings to be an unbearable burden, an obstacle to an easy life, or simply forgot about their existence. Whatever the wording, too often children lose out in the competition with vodka for the adults’ hearts.
According to the World Health Organisation, Belarus is in the top 10 countries for alcohol consumption. More than 10 per cent of the entire population abuse it.
Alcohol-addicted people rarely refuse children themselves. Usually, state officials come and take the unfortunate small human beings away.
The state deprives unaccomplished parents of parents’ rights. For a child, the immediate result of such a change is usually the same: being placed in an orphanage.
Belarusian state authorities use a broad term with regard to children with living parents who are deprived of their care: “social orphans”. In fact, that usually means “victims of the nation’s alcoholisation”.
Depending on the type of orphanage, it can host from between 20 and 100 children. The children receive medical care, special education if needed, and nice toys.
Yet the consequences of upbringing in an orphanage are doleful. Developmental delays and physical stunting are common. Only about 10 per cent of orphanage graduates settle well in their future life. Violence, drugs, and, again, alcohol and abandoned children are far more common among orphanage graduates than among other youth.
This can hardly be blamed on the orphanages’ staff. They are simply unable to provide children with decent socialisation skills and, even more importantly, with parental love.
For the state authorities, the detrimental results of upbringing in orphanages are clear enough. They are now making efforts to put children into alternative forms of family care instead.
Professional families, family-style children's homes, and patronage are relatively new institutions for Belarus, but they are gaining popularity and increasing in number.
In order to prove the success of alternative forms of family care, the state media like to point to the decrease in the number of orphanages in the country.
Compared to 2005, the number of children in orphanages has declined twofold. But one should be very careful with such statistics: during this time, the number of children has also decreased in Belarus by 30 per cent because of demographic trends.
Thanks to these positive changes, children can live in an environment much closer to what they would get in a family. Still, the alternative family forms are not real ones.
Red Light for Foreign Adopters
Adoption gives a second chance for both real and social orphans. Being adopted as babies, children may never know that their parents are not their biological ones. Even if they learn this later, they will have already received parental love, which is of crucial importance for the formation of a person.
On the one hand, the statistics on adoption reveal progress: while in 2006 Belarusians adopted only 337 children, in 2011 this number was already 510. On the other hand, Belarus has drastically minimised the possibilities for international adoption.
For years, adoption by a foreign family loomed among the brightest wishes of small Belarusian orphans. The practise used to be quite popular and the number of cases of such polar shifts in children’s lives could exceed 700 a year (in 2003).
Not taking into account children’s interests, the state has decided their fortune in another way. In 2006, the Belarusian Parliament amended the Code of Marriage and Family's provisions on international adoption. Foreigners became able to adopt a Belarusian child only if state authorities found his or her adoption within Belarus impossible.
Of all foreigners (excluding Russians), only Italians can adopt Belarusian children, following a simplified procedure. Belarus and Italy have launched an effective cooperation on adoption issues which includes monitoring the life of adoptees abroad.
Foreign adoption cases have decreased almost five times, together with children's chances for a proper life.
Reasons for State Concern
The state can provide good arguments supporting its position with regard to foreign adoption. In 2004, Lukashenka claimed adoption of Belarusian children by foreigners was Belarus’ shame. A year later, the state claimed that international adoption was one means for trafficking of people.
The culmination came in September 2006 when an Italian couple refused to return a Belarusian orphan – Vika Moroz – to Belarus after she had spent a summer in Italy. The Italians claimed that at her orphanage in Belarus the small girl suffered from physical and moral violence. They hid the girl for 20 days. Finally, Italian police found Vika in a monastery and returned her to Belarus.
News from Russia exaggerated the tension. Exceptionally violent treatment of about 18 Russian children adopted by foreigners got significant attention in Russian media outlets which are popular in Belarus. The cases enforced the negative attitude of state officials towards international adoption. Even more, it helped the tough state policy to get ordinary Belarusians’ support.
The state had its reasons for limiting international adoption. But it is impossible to agree with Lukashenka that adoption of Belarus by foreign citizens is Belarus’ shame. The need for international adoption is only a consequence of a real cause for Belarus’ shame: the alcoholisation of the rapidly declining population.