Ostrogorski Centre in 2018: focus on education
It is my pleasure to present you with an overview of our activities in 2018. It has been a successful year with the Ostrogorski Centre serving as a hub for producing articles, policy papers and events relevant to the transformation of Belarus.
In 2018, education-related work moved to the core of the Centre’s activities. Following an open call for proposals, we selected several applications to tackle important problems, which Belarusian higher education sector faces – from plagiarism and teaching techniques to improve the quality of scholarly publications of Belarusian authors. In collaboration with leading Belarusian think tanks, the Centre arranged a series of meetings with experts from other countries as well as a major conference in Minsk in December.
We already published policy papers on non-formal education in Belarus, reform of legal education, and new forms on practice-oriented business education with more to come in 2019. In addition, we published a major study on Belarus-Lithuania relations. All our papers are normally published in Belarusian or Russian and English.
The Ostrogorski Centre disseminates its work not only using traditional publications, seminars and conferences but also by maintaining a video archive of all conference panels with text summaries of discussions. This approach helps us to multiply the effect of meaningful discussions and the impact on policymakers through the Internet to a much wider audience. All videos are kept in a dedicated archive on Ostro.by.
What our audiences are interested in?
Belarus Digest, our main English-language media outlet, continues to provide balanced information for both Belarusian and foreign audiences who desire to know more about Belarus, its politics, society and economic development.
According to the web site’s statistics, our articles on travelling to Belarus have become more popular than political articles, which is a missed blessing. On the one hand, it is good that the country is becoming more open and people want to visit Belarus – the visa-free regime certainly facilitates it. On the other hand, the reduced interest in Belarusian political and economic problems is an indication of less interesting in Belarus in the world, despite the increasingly assertive Russian foreign policy.
BelarusPolicy.com – our database of policy papers now contains around 400 full-text papers with abstracts in Belarusian, Russian and English and download counters. It is interesting to compare its different language versions. While people visiting the Russian-language version are primarily interested in economic issues, the foreign policy section is the most popular with those visiting the Belarusian-language and the English-language versions. Overall, studies of the Belarusian army, public procurement, the Belarusian ruling elite and the possibility of the authoritarian modernization of Belarus generated most interest in 2018.
The Ostrogorski Academy shows a different trend where most popular videos related to the history of Belarus, more precisely with the Belarusian view of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The views of this course in the Belarusian language by far exceed the second most popular course dealing with theory and practice of economic crisis (in the Russian language). Most people find our videos on YouTube and share them on social networks.
Last year we organised the fourth edition of the London conference on Belarusian Studies and the annual lecture was supported by the British Association for Slavonic & East European Studies. The event was well-attended, and its participants included Stanislaŭ Šuškievič, the first head of independent Belarus (in office 1991-1994), and the
UK ambassador to Belarus, Fionna Gibb.
Our Journal of Belarusian Studies was included into the Scopus database in October 2018, confirming its role as not only the oldest surviving but also the most academically rigorous journal on Belarus in the world. The 2018 issue has already been published featuring high-quality publications of authors from Germany, Czech Republic, Belarus and other countries.
Most of our activities in the United Kingdom are self-funded and help us to fulfil the two important goals of the Centre – to locate and engage Belarusians working in the West in policy analysis and other activities related to Belarus, and to popularise studies of Belarus in Western Europe and the English-speaking world.
In 2019, we plan to strengthen our work on facilitating the reform of the higher education sector in Belarus as well as our policy analysis in the area of foreign policy and civil society. We will continue to work on reversing the brain drain so that Belarusians, regardless of where they are based, contribute to better governance in Belarus, hopefully in cooperation with policymakers.
As the same time, we will continue help Belarusian think tanks, experts and scholars to become more integrated into international scholarly networks, databases and events through Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian studies and other successful projects of the Ostrogorski Centre.
I would like to thank all our supporters and collaborators. We remain open to your ideas about new research projects, events and other initiatives. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.
- The full Annual Report of the Ostrogorski Centre is available here.
Women In Technology Week, Nobel laureate’s Intellectual Club, Earth Hour 2019 – Civil society digest
Belarusian authorities allow mass actions to celebrate the 101st anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic in Hrodna and Minsk. Nobel laureate’s (Svetlana Alexievich’s) Intellectual Club resumes its meetings. Minsk hosts the first ‘monstration’.
The Belarusian court sentences Maryna Zolatava, the chief editor of TUT.by portal, to a fine over dereliction of duty under the so-called BelTA case. Human rights defenders alarmed by the unprecedented attack on critical bloggers.
Women In Technology Week supported by USAID was held on March 18-22. Belarus joins the global action Earth Hour for the 11th time. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) names the Ministry of Emergency Situations, MFA and the State Border Committee as the most open ministries.
Freedom Day marked for three days in Belarus. The authorities allowed mass actions to celebrate the 101st anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic (#BNR101) in Hrodna (March 23) and Minsk (March 24), each of them gathered from 1,5K to 5K people. A number of unauthorized actions were held on March 25. While there were no detentions in Hrodna, at least 15 people, including opposition politicians and known musicians, were detained on March 24-25. Most of them were later released without charges.
Nobel laureate’s Intellectual Club meeting took place on March 26, at the Lithuanian Embassy in Minsk. The speakers, Belarusian authors Alhierd Bakharevich and Viktar Martsinovich, debated on the topic Price Of Compromise. After receiving the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, Svetlana Aleksievich’s declared readiness to spend part of the money prize on the establishment and activity of an intellectual club for Belarus.
First Belarusian ‘monstration’: more posters than participants. On March 6, in Minsk, volunteers of the HRC Viasna organized a monstration. The participants were holding posters with the inscriptions “Workers of all countries, quit!”, “Thank you for nothing”, etc. The Monstration is an idea of mass demonstration with absurd mottoes invented in Russia.
Over 230K Belarusians engaged in volunteer activities. This is nearly 2,4% of the population. According to the Statistical Committee’s poll of the Belarusians aged 15-74, the most common areas of volunteers are social support (28%) and animal care (24%). An average volunteer is a woman who lives in a city: twice as many women than men, as well as four times more urban residents than rural ones are involved in voluntarism.
Human rights defenders alarmed by the unprecedented attack on critical bloggers. The HRC Viasna is concerned about the situation of blogger Andrei Pavuk, who was detained for having allegedly used his computer to email a fake bomb threat to the government building. Viasna believes that the case is a sign of intensified repression in the Internet on the eve of elections. Earlier, charges were brought against bloggers in Brest.
Guilty: Zolatava to pay a fine and BelTA costs. On March 4, the court announced the verdict to Maryna Zolatava, the chief editor of TUT.by portal. She was found guilty of dereliction of duty under the so-called BelTA case. She must pay a fine and sue charges totalled of $6,3K. BAJ and Belarusian Pen Center released a joint statement regarding the conviction of Zolatava. OSCE hopes the verdict will be overturned.
Monitoring of LGBT-topic in the Belarusian media. During the ten months (January-October 2018), the human rights initiative Journalists for Tolerancemonitored 161 Belarusian media outlets and found 891 LGBTQ+ related publications. Compared with the previous monitoring, the share of relevant materials has increased, and more materials with hate speech have appeared.
Earth Hour 2019. This year, Belarus joins the global action Earth Hour for the 11th time. On March 30, the last Saturday of March from 8:30 pm to 9:20 pm the lights will be turned off on the most famous buildings. This is a demonstration of the human will to global environmental problems. Three topics are chosen this year: for clean air, clean neighbourhood and clean energy.
Women In Technology Week supported by USAID was held on March 18-22. The Week is a series of workshops and discussions to help empower women and girls as future business leaders and entrepreneurs, particularly in tech sectors. On March 18, Jenifer H. Moore, U.S. Charge d’Affaires to Belarus, took part in the opening panel discussion on women’s leadership.
W-day in Minsk. On March 2-13, Minsk will host a network of events dedicated to the spring holiday of gender fight. The organizers hope to return the lost meanings to the International Women’s Day that means respect for women’s work and a symbol of the struggle for gender equality. The program includes lectures, discussions, a master-class on feminism with own hands, etc.
Week of educational activities against racism, discrimination and hatred is held in Belarus on March 16-24. The Week is organized by Human Constanta human rights CSO together with partners. The agenda includes public lectures, youth debates, and presentations. The Belarusian Week runs in parallel with the European Action Week Against Racism.
ICNL releases report on restrictions on higher education. The report seeks to understand the ways in which governments are repressing university autonomy and closing academic space. Belarus is mentioned in relation to forced membership in the government-controlled youth organization, the pressure on students for their socio-political activity, etc.
Hackathon for teachers was held in Minsk, on March 23-24. The Hackathon titled of EduTHON is a creative laboratory, where professionals from the education and IT sectors get together to address educational problems and come up to technical solutions. The Education for Future association organizes the event.
First SDG Impact Investment Forum was held in Minsk, on March 28. The forum was designed to stimulate social impact investment growth and support active engagement of the business community into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) achievement in the country. Initiated by UNDP, the event gathered CSOs, high-profile officials and business companies.
First Belarusian Forum of Innovative Ideas will be held in Mogilev, on April 19-20. The Forum aims to promote the work of regional CSOs and their contribution to the development of the regions. The organizers are the Center “Kola”, Studio for Useful Competencies and the Center “Third Sector”, Grodno. Deadline for applications is March 29.
Rating of the most closed state bodies. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) surveyed journalists about the openness of the Belarusian ministries and departments. The Ministry of Emergency Situations, MFA and the State Border Committee received the best marks. The most closed are the Information and Analytical Center, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the KGB.
12th MediaBarCamp opens registration. The MediaBarCamp Inspired BY (Inspired by Belarus/Inspired by someone or something) is a place where activists meet to build networks, inspire each other, and share their experiences of working with civil society projects. During the four-day event, discussions, workshops, presentations etc. are held at different venues. Application deadline is March 24.
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.