Online Travel to Belarus, USB Rally, Kraj.BY – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Budzma campaign and the Belarusian Language Society launch the second season of a weekly Kraj.BY program which is online-travel throughout Belarus.
Legal Transformation Center Lawtrend has released the latest data of its monitoring on information provided at the official state web sites of Belarus.
Falanster Minsk NGO invites to a meeting to discuss the topic how to improve the city's infrastructure for its residents. A particular attention will be paid to the expanding community of cyclists.
The EESC announces registration to the USB Rally 2014. The Eastern Europe Studies Centre invites Belarusian students to register for the annual United Students of Belarus (USB) Rally that will take place in Lithuania on 1-5 October 2014. USB Rally is an opportunity to meet Belarusian youth studying around the world, to exchange experience and contacts, as well as to join the informal international network of Belarusians residing at home and abroad known today as the USB. This will already be the 8th USB Rally taking place in Lithuania.
Kraj.BY invites for online travels again. From 12 August the Budzma campaign and the Belarusian Language Society launch the second season of a weekly Kraj.BY program. The program offers online-travel into the world of mystery, intrigue and attractions throughout Belarus implemented by creative association PAN-studio. The program host is actor Paval Kharlanchuk.
Exhibition 'Visual Maps of Historical Memory, or the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on Ancient Maps' takes place in the Minsk venue CEKH, from July 24 to 31 August. The organisers – Belarusian Philosophical Space, the Flying University, Publishing House Ekanompres and TSEKH space – are offering a view at ancient maps of Europe and the world to try to see Belarus in different historical contexts and scales, to initiate discussions that may lead to rethink about the "borders" of Belarus.
Art-Environmental exhibition is held on 7-31 August in the Gallery Ў. Weekly lectures and presentations are related to the environment and the arts; a discussion on the relationship of ecology and art highlights the responsibility of art. The final event will be the Eco-Cultural Festival on 31 August. The organisers are AgraEkaKultura non-profit entity, the Minsk Gallery Ў, Ecodom NGO, Green Alliance and the Centre for Environmental Solutions NGO.
Budzma in Hrodna. On 5 August in Grodna, the Budzma cultural campaign organised a Press Club on covering cultural issues in the regional media. That day a talk show 'Belarusiness as a Concept in the Holiday Industry' tried identifying the prospects for promoting Belarusian theme in event business and indicated that archery and throwing spears, picnics in the Empire style, traditional wedding with embroideries are quite feasible to be organised in Belarus.
City for people. On 23 August Falanster Minsk NGO invites to a meeting to discuss the topic how to improve the city's infrastructure for its residents. A particular attention will be paid to the expanding community of cyclists. The purpose of the meeting is to consider a bicycle in the city from the point of view of different road users, to assess the needs of bicycles, cars and pedestrians, in order to launch a mutually beneficial dialogue.
Round table on services for disabled. The Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship invites to take part in the round table 'On the State and Development of Small Business in the Service Sector: a View of Consumers. The Problem of Accessibility for People with Disabilities'. The event took place on 6 August in Minsk, at the Ministry of Trade venue. Among the speakers are representatives of government and non-government organisations.
Civil society reports
Belarusian Public Authorities Online. Legal Transformation Center Lawtrend has released the latest data of its monitoring on information provided at the official state web sites of Belarus. The data show that no one of the 98 investigated web sites of Belarus' executive bodies at various levels hasn't got the maximum possible index (100%), reflecting the degree of regulatory compliance with the completeness, relevance and accessibility of information online. The report concludes that active interaction with the citizens and transparency, that is the essence of e-governance, still remain marginal practises.
Monitoring the Accessibility of the World Hockey Championship 2014. The Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities releases the final report on monitoring the accessibility of environment, held before the start of the IIHF World Championship in Minsk. The report analysing the information on different facilities – railway stations and airports, sports complexes, hotels, shops and other places of the service sector – indicates the unsatisfactory degree of accessibility. The report includes recommendations that are important to consider while carrying out the large-scale sporting events.
Interaction between State and Civil Society
The Belarusian justice ministry has denied state registration for a new human rights organisation called the Movement for the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or Pact (Covenant). The founders of the organisation filed a registration application and the required package of documents on 27 June. Mikhail Pastukhou, a former judge of the Constitutional Court, was elected chairman of the organisation at its founding conference. The activists call the pretexts of denying registration ridiculous; in particular, among the reasons for refusal is that the date of birth of one of the founders was stated as 21 June 1949, whereas the correct date was 26 June 1949.
The International Visegrad Fund is announcing a call for proposals for Extended Standard Grant projects within the Visegrad 4 Eastern Partnership (V4EaP) program. The purpose of the call is to promote democratisation and civil society in the countries of the Eastern Partnership through medium-term projects aimed at providing access to the experience of the Visegrad Group countries in democratic transformation, EU integration, civil society building and regional cooperation. Deadline is 22 September 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.
Lecturers Exiled from the Belarusian University in Exile?
A number of Belarusian lecturers who were particularly vocal in criticising the administration of the European Humanities University – a Belarusian university in exile – will no longer teach there after this summer.
Their departure is the result of a previously announced round of faculty hiring that wrapped up at the end of July.
Commenting on the administration's decisions, representatives of the EHU Senate and its union argued that they were not offered employment because of their vocal disagreements with the university's management.
EHU's administration has stressed that agreement or disagreement with its policies was not a criterion. The administration explained that the criteria considered during its hiring process included the quality of applicant's teaching and research, but also the workload requirements of departments.
Financial considerations also figured into the hiring process. The university needed to lower the overall number of academics the university could afford to hire.
Belarus Digest interviewed David Pollick, EHU Provost, and Andrei Lavruhin, a former EHU lecturer and Secretary of the Senate.
Senate vs Administration
EHU administration and faculty relations were strained a few years ago when a group of Belarusian lecturers left the university after a disagreement with its administration. While things had been relatively calm in the interceding years, the conflict flared up once again in February 2014.
At that time, the administration had recently dismissed Paval Tereshkovich, the head of the democratically elected Senate – the university's self-governing body. He was one of the authors of a pro-reform platform championed by EHU academics called “For a New EHU”.
Tereshkovich and his colleagues rallied for a series of specific changes such as improved employment conditions for the faculty and a shift towards having research and teaching focus more on Belarus.
Following his firing, Tereshkovich told Belarus Digest in an interview that his dismissal was unlawful and an act of revenge for his criticism of the university’s administration. His colleagues supported him and another lecturer, Maksim Zhbankou, even predicted at the time that there would be further dismissals of other academics that made the administration uncomfortable.
At the end of July, EHU officially announced that it was offering one-year employment contracts to 61 lecturers. The leaders of the "For a New EHU” platform were not among those offered employment.
The list of faculty offered contracts after the hiring process did not also include the management of "EHUnion" Aliaksei Kryvalap, his deputy Kanstancin Tkachou or Andrei Ralionak, a member of the "Council" union and the Senate.
Other EHU Senate representatives, including Volha Shparaha, deputy head of the Senate, Andrei Lavruhin, the Secretary of the Senate and member of the "Council" union and Maksim Zhbankau, a Senator, also lost their jobs.
Lavruhin: Political Dismissals
Andrei Lavruhin told Belarus Digest that the administration's decisions were politically motivated and they proved academic repression against the lecturers.
In his view, the decision not to hire back members of the faculty was due to their criticisms of the EHU administration. “All of the dismissed lecturers enjoyed a high level of admiration among the student body (as seen in their annual student evaluations) and had significant academic potential”, he explained.
The former lecturer does not yet know what he will do personally. “It is hard to say at the moment, because we found ourselves in this position only a week ago”, he told Belarus Digest. The fact that he taught at EHU will also probably make it very difficult, if not impossible, to find a job at any other state-run Belarusian university.
He and other lecturers are planning to sue EHU in Lithuanian court, and also seek the help of human rights organisations and other European agencies.
EHU Administration: Quality of Teaching and Research Above All
David Pollick, EHU’s Provost, explained to Belarus Digest that the "Hiring Commission's recommendations to the Rector were based on criteria such as the quality of a faculty member's teaching and research, and the workload requirements of departments (…) Whether someone called for changes or disagreed with the Administration’s policies was not a deciding factor”, he said.
Pollick explained the decision-making process: "Following on internal departmental consultation, the heads of academic departments provided recommendations as members of the Commission".
According to the Provost, members of the Senate were aware that there would be additional costs associated with moving core teaching staff from service contracts to employment contracts. “Because of the additional costs, a reduction in the overall number of faculty was inevitable”, he stated.
Towards a More Transparent EHU?
The prior dismissal of Paval Tereshkovich and recent decisions made by the administration may raise a few questions regarding the transparency and fairness of the university's hiring process.
According to an EHU media release, the Internal Faculty Hiring Commission consisted of the heads of EHU’s four academic departments, the Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and the newly-appointed Provost.
However, it is unclear – from either the press release or EHU's web site – who the heads of the departments are and how they were appointed.
At the same time, it seems quite logical that if EHU were to improve the employment conditions (i.e. raise the salaries) of its academics, it would have to cut the number of those employed.
The administration began switching members of its staff from service contracts to employment contracts earlier this year and, as part of this process, had already appointed the university's core faculty by the end of the July.
These new improved working conditions will definitely give the university's faculty more financial security and stability than they had with service contracts, which had been the standard form of employment for years.
Who is Concerned About EHU's Image?
The university's donors would appear to still be its most important constituency. As donors that help fund it, they help ensure that EHU is functioning in accordance with its stated mission of being a truly democratic university working for the future of Belarus.
The administration, for its part, believes that it is fulfilling its obligations to its donors. "We have kept donors informed of our plans and actions and we are confident that they understand and support us", David Pollick told Belarus Digest.
Pollick also believes that the changes "will improve the quality of education and research at EHU, and, thereby improve our image in a very real way”, he added.
Belarusian media, on the other hand, have been very critical of the conflict.
Nearly all of the headlines surrounding the recent events at the university have carried a bitter tone: "What is EHU Mutating Into?" (EuroBelarus), "Rebel Professors Driven Out of EHU" (RFE/RL). Other headlines include "The Students of EHU Collect Signatures in Support of Lecturer-Rebels" (Charter'97) and "Everyone Who Thinks Critically at EHU – at Risk" (EuroBelarus).
The state-run Belarus newspaper Belarus' Segodnya published an article entitled "Study in the Shadow of Scandals", a piece that commented upon the conflict at the university with particular satisfaction.
The administration argues that its decisions were not dictated by the lecturers’ critical attitudes. However, the fact remains that all of the leaders of the Senate and EHU's union will no longer be employed at EHU come this fall.
Naturally this raises questions about whether the hiring decisions made by the university's administration were based solely on their academic credentials.
Because EHU exists to serve Belarusian students, it needs to do more to build a positive image in Belarusian society, including being tolerant of internal dissent.
A tolerant, pluralistic environment would demonstrate that EHU is a place that encourages genuine and open discussion, without the threat of reprisals – something which is sorely missing in Belarus.