Radioactive Mushrooms, Civil Magistrate, Mova ci Kava – Digest of Belarusian Civil Society
Belarusian civil society organised a number of discussion events on topics ranging from cancer to media wars. Other initiatives included the promotion of the Belarusian language and examining radioactive mushrooms.
The Liberal Club attracted 100 practitioners to its event on information wars in the media, including representatives of state and independent media. NGO Assembly gave awards to Civil Society Champions, among them Andrzej Paczobut and Valer Bulhakau. Mahiliou activists formed a “civic magistrate” to help citizens deal with local issues.
Discussion on information wars in the media: On 7 February the Liberal Club organised a discussion on how to overcome the information war in Belarusian media? The event was held at the hotel Europe and attended by about a hundred people, including well-known representatives of state and independent media: blogger Victor Malishevski, a political columnist Pavlyuk Bykovsky, the Belarusian Thought chief editor Vadim Gigin, TUT.by founder Yuri Zisser and others.
Cancer topic in media: On 4 February the Belarusian Organization of Working Women together with a team from oncopatient.by website conducted a roundtable Cancer Topics in the Media, What Information Helps Belarusians to Beat Cancer? The discussion was timed to correspond with the International Day Against Cancer and was attended by experts from oncology centres, patients and journalists.
TUT.BY offers its versions of Minsk brand: After the sensational story with the official Minsk brand developed by the British company INSTID, an alternative Minsk team decided to offer other ideas for branding the city. Belarusian portal TUT.BY has also joined the initiative of designers and PR specialists and suggests own versions.
BAJ presents Anatomy of freelance: The book The Anatomy of Freelance sums up of the journalistic experience with and knowledge of freelancing, received over the first year of the thematic campaign implemented by the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The book is designed to help freelance journalists to overcome existing obstacles.
Social Campaigns and Initiatives
Radioactive mushrooms video: Gomel Democratic Forum with the support of the Green Alliance created a short film with a story about how radioactive mushrooms end up in Gomel residents' households and what tricks illegal collectors use to circumvent restrictive measures.
In defense of Belarusian Wetlands sums up their first results: On 1 February public campaign In Defense of Belarusian Wetlands held a press conference. The meeting summed up the interim results of the campaign, designed to attract the attention of people and CSOs to the destruction of eight Belarusian wetlands.
Kurapaty will be promoted: On 6 February the BPF office hosted a meeting of the members of the Kurapaty Rescue Initiative. An expert in the field of PR and advertising, Yulia Lyashkevich, presented a draft of Kurapaty promotion which aims to inform Belarusians what Kurapaty is by using the norms of advertising.
NGO Assembly named Civil Society Champions: The 4th annual award ceremony of The Assembly of NGOs of Belarus – Civil Society Champions 2012 – was held at the Minsk Lohvinau bookstore on 1 February. The Civil Leaders of the year were journalists Andrzej Paczobut and Valer Bulhakau; the award for the Years Most Creative was given to the Swedish airdrop of teddy bears; the Venue of the Year went to the Office of Human Rights Center Viasna; as the most important Regional Event of the year the establishment of independent union trade structures at the Hranit factory was honored, amongst others.
Mogilev activists form a “civic magistrate”: Activists from Mogilev city created a public discussion platform, which they call a “civic magistrate”, in order to help citizens deal with local issues. The magistrate is positioned as a non-political intermediary between residents, experts and local authorities and seeks to establish dialogue in the city around the most pressing issues. One of the recent successes of the initiative, reported on the magistrate’s website, was authorities’ decision not to shut down local markets.
Marketplace undertakes local trips: Capacity Building Marketplace continues a series of local trips throughout Belarus in order to inform Belarusian CSOs about the possibilities and the importance of capacity development. The meetings with CSOs and service providers were held on 31 January in Grodno; on 5 February in Mogilev; the next meeting is scheduled for 12 February in Gomel.
Antimak visited addicts: Activists of the public campaign Antimak continue to draw attention to the problem of drug abuse in Belarus. This time they together with Telegraph correspondents visited the apartments where addicts live and talked to their residents.
CSOs to establish organization in response to the disregard for the decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee. On 12 February Gomel gathered civil and political activists, the violation of whose rights by Belarusian authorities have been officially confirmed by decisions from the UN Human Rights Committee or whose complaints are pending at the Committee. The participants of the meeting decided to establish a national public organisation which would change the practise of neglecting to undertake actions under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by Belarus.
A special hot line – 10 years. A joint project of the Business Women Club and the International Organization for Migration celebrates the 10 years of the anti traffic hotline. For 10 years, the call-centre specialists have received more than 20 thousand calls; 110 people were able to return home.
Football clubs asked to more widely use the Belarusian language. On the eve of the beginning of the Belarusian football championship in the higher league, activists of the civil campaign Office Work in Belarusian! addressed twenty football clubs with a proposal to extensively use the Belarusian language during the organization, holding and elucidation of the matches.
Modern life of Muzhytskaya Prauda: Brest activists have resumed publication of the first revolutionary-democratic newspaper in Belarusian. In the period from 1862 to 1863 seven numbers were published. Newspaper #8 is coming in February 2013. This is the way of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Kalinouski Rebellion in the Brest region.
Workshops and Conferences
Master class from Talaka: On 9 February Gomel youth NGO Talaka and Vetka Museum invited for a master class in creating a marriage of guardian dolls. In ancient times, this amulet guarded the union of two people and was presented to bride and groom at the wedding day. The event was scheduled to correspond with Valentine's Day.
Mova ci Kava. On 18 February in Minsk educational free courses Language or Coffee (Mova ci Kava) will be launched. The courses are designed for people who want to improve their Belarusian language. The teachers are journalist Gleb Labadzenka and philologist Alesya Litvinovskaya who taught Stefan Eriksson to speak Belarusian. The courses will be held in a cafe once a week.
Round table on human capital. BISS launches a series of presentations on the results of the research project Human Capital as a Source of Competitiveness and Modernization. The first round table is to be held on 15 February at the Minsk hotel Victoria. The event presents two research papers: The Returns to Education and the Evaluation of Human Capital in Belarus and Belarusian Higher Education in Cross-country Perspective.
New award for researchers. The Organizing Committee of the International Congress of Belarusian Researchers announces the establishment of an annual award for the best publication in the field of social sciences and humanities during the year. The award is designed to celebrate the achievements in the social sciences and humanities during the year, as well as improve the quality of scientific work.
I Love Belarus award. On 16 February Young Front invites to the ceremony of its annual award I Love Belarus. The prize is awarded in six nominations – Belarusization, Pro-Belarus, Journalism, Culture, Politics, Civil activity, Fighter of the Year, and Sports.
Lyubow Kavalyowa voted Person of 2012 in Vitebsk. The mother of a man executed over the 2011 subway bombing in Minsk has been voted the Person of the Year 2012 in Vitebsk. A local news website's readers had been asked to choose the person who was of the greatest use to Vitebsk or who contributed to promoting the city in the world in 2012.
BEROC awarded: BEROC was awarded by Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus as an organization which actively formed the informational sphere in Belarus in 2012. Among other winners were the National Bank, Investigative Committee, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Statistics, etc.
Svetlana Naumova Award: Tell the Truth campaign has completed the nomination of candidates for the Svetlana Naumova Award. The award is given in three categories – political journalism, political analyst and best young politician of the year. Among others, the short list of 2013 includes journalist Andrei Poczobut, BISS academic director Alexei Pikulik, journalist Alexander Klaskovsky, etc. The award ceremony will take place on 1 March 2013.
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 World of Tanks
In 2012 the most recognisable Belarusian brand abroad was World of Tanks according to Belarusian contest The brand of the year.
Produced by Belarus-based Wargaming it allows hundreds of thousands of players play the computer game at the same time. “World of Tanks” broke the previous record in November 2011 when 250,000 players played on the game’s Russian server simultaneously.
In January the Belarusian company bought Day 1 Studios – an American game developer from Chicago for $20 million. That is the second major deal of Wargaming in recent months. Previous purchase Big World Company cost $45 million which was the largest M&A-transaction involving private Belarusian companies in 2012.
Viktar Kisly, a physics graduate of the Belarusian State University, founded Wargaming in 1998. Originally the company focused on developing websites. The first PC game turned-based strategy “DBA online” appeared in 2000. This game as well as the second turn-based strategy “Massive Assault” were unsuccessful. As a result both projects had to close.
The next game Real-time strategy Order of War released in 2009. Despite the fact that the game was critically acclaiming, the company has only managed to sell 100 000 copies of the game which barely allowed to recoup development. To stay afloat the company had to work for banner exchange network AdRevolver.
At that date a great success was gaining by a multiplayer online role-playing game “World of Warcraft”. To develop their own massively multiplayer online game (also known as MMO) Wargaming conducted a market survey. First, they were considering to make a game with elves, dwarves and orcs. But finally Victar Kisly team rejected this idea and made a decision in favour of tanks.
Tanks as a Part of Soviet Folklore
The game “World of Tanks” is extremely user-friendly, the system of control is very simple and anyone can learn how to play the game in a short time.
Released in August 2010 the “World of Tanks” had 45,000,000 registered players worldwide. In contrast to the “World of Warcraft” the game from Belarus is free to play and the creators' earnings come from micropayments for additional options. On average, each player only pays $3-5 per month.
The game gained most popularity in the countries of ex-USSR and Eastern Europe where the monuments of tanks appeared in almost every city. Soviet propaganda always emphasised that tanks produced in USSR are the best in the world.
Tanks occupied an honourable place in the Soviet mythology of the Great Patriotic War. According to the Soviet historiography the Great Patriotic War is a part of the Second World War which started from the Soviet-Nazi War.
Even songs praise the tanks. One of the most popular TV series in USSR was Polish film about Second World War “Four tankmen and the dog” where Soviet tank T-34 even had a first name. For inhabitants of the former USSR tanks is a part of folklore.
To win markets in Asia, Western Europe and USA where the tank discourse is not as popular Wargaming lunched two new projects – the “World of Warplanes” and the “World of Warships”. Ultimately games of tanks, planes and ships will compose a single MMO universe with single economy.
Wargaming tries to secure its share of the market. In 2012 Viktar Kisly bought for $45 million Big World Company from Australia which is a producer and a supplier of game engines – an essential link of “World of Tanks”. That was the largest M&A-transaction involving private Belarusian companies in 2012.
In January 2013, Viktar Kisly made another important acquisition – he bought Day 1 Studios – an American game developer for $20 million. This purchase will allow Wargaming to expand the presence of “World of Tanks” on new platforms such as game console or mobile phone.
The Belarusian Context
In Minsk the average salary for the newcomer on the labour market is around $400 per month. In these circumstances for young people to work for Wargaming is a great luck. Wargaming proposes a decent wages and a chance for making career in a growing international company based.
Offices of Wargaming are locating in Paris, Kiev and Saint Petersburg. Over 400 employees are currently working at the Minsk office. For that reason to make a corporate party the company rents “Sport Palace” – Ice hockey arena in the centre of the city, where Lukashenka regularly practises his Ice hockey skills with his sons, and a second biggest arena for concerts in Minsk.
Wargaming is a phenomenon for Belarus where all the big businesses are directly or indirectly linked to the bureaucracy – current or former officials, security officers and oligarchs controlled by Lukashenka. Making the most recognisable brand from Belarus in the world Wargaming is distancing itself from Belarusian government. It is impossible to imagine Viktar Kisly on Belarusian congress next to the director of tractor factory and militia generals.
Today “World of Tanks” for Belarus is the same as Skype for Estonia. It creates a more positive image for the country known more for Lukashenka and Chernobyl. Wargaming makes Belarusians proud for their country and demonstrates by its own example that doing big business in Belarus is possible not only for for those linked to the ruling regime.