Reviving Partisan: Solidarity of Minsk Football Fans
Minsk football club Partisan-MTZ recently became a symbol of solidarity for football fans in the post-Soviet space. In 2004 -2012 the club belonged to Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov, well-known for his investment in football.
While Romanov was doing business in Belarus, the football club twice won the Belarusian Cup, the main "knock out" cup competition in Belarusian football. The “Red-White” club acquired a large number of fans who, unlike the most other nationalist groups of Eastern Europe, openly declare anti-racism and anti-fascism views.
After Romanov stopped sponsoring Partisan fans revived the club. Collecting money for their favourite team supporters showed that they are active and solidarity group which do not need the permission from authorities and Belarus Football Federation to make their team playing football. Yet football officials tolerated the initiative of fans. But recent events suggesting that the future of Partisan put on doubt.
Lithuanian Millionaire who Loves Sports
In the mid-2000s the founder of the first Lithuanian private bank Ūkio Bankas – Vladimir Romanov started doing business in Belarus. Shortly thereafter he found patrons among the Belarusian political elites. The sponsorship of MTZ-Ripo became one of the conditions of the investment project he planned to implement in Minsk.
In 2005, Alexander Lukashenka approved Romanov’s investment project. Besides planning to build apartment houses in residential areas on the outskirts of Minsk, Romanov’s company ŪBIG was to reconstruct the Traktar Stadium, the second largest football arena in Minsk. The development plan included the construction of the shopping mall, business centre, indoor sports arena, a hotel and a parking lot that sat next to the stadium.
Romanov, who became famous for his investment in the sport also purchased a new football club from Minsk — MTZ-Ripo. At that time, besides Belarusian team, he invested into Heart of Midlothian FC from Edinburgh, the basketball club Žalgiris and FC Kaunas from Lithuania.
In 2007, ŪBIG signed the investment agreement with the Minsk City Council. According to the agreement to implement the project the joint-stock company “Stadium” was established. At that time, Romanov had a great relationship with the Belarusian authorities, and became one of the initiators of Alexander Lukashenka’s visit to Lithuania in 2009. For his part, Alexander Lukashenka advised the Lithuanian business elite to contact Romanov in case they wanted to do business in Belarus.
Nevertheless in the beginning of 2010s, Romanov “lost the confidence” of the higher authorities and the Minsk City Council broke its investment agreement with the Lithuanian millionaire. Most likely, the main reason of the conflict was the fact that instead of the reconstruction of the Traktar Stadium, the JSC “Stadium” started to build apartment houses in Minsk's suburbs. When the Belarusian authorities stopped supporting Romanov’s business, he announced the cessation of the FC MTZ-Ripo’s sponsorship.
From MTZ-Ripo to Partisan
In 2002 after the merger of two minor league Minsk football teams FC Traktar and FC Pracouniye Rezervy, FC MTZ-Ripo was born. Romanov purchased the club in 2004. According to the Lithuanian tycoon, between 2004 and 2012 he invested into the club around USD 15 million.
That amount was enough to create a successful team. In the second half of the 2000s, MTZ-Ripo twice won the Belarusian cup and twice finished third in the Belarusian premier-league season. Rapidly, the club became the second most popular football club in Minsk creating an alternative to the FC Dinamo Minsk.
Unlike Dinamo Minsk’s ultras, infamous for their right-wing political views, MTZ-Ripo supporters became the first organised group of football fans in post-Soviet space who openly declared their anti-racist and anti-fascist views. Partisan’s fans often compare their club to the FC St. Pauli. Supporters of the football club from Hamburg are well-known all over Europe for their anti-racist views.
All ultra groups from Eastern Europe are either apolitical or have right wing political views. MTZ-Ripo’s ultras group stood out against this landscape. They became isolated on the ultras scene inside the country, while leftist activists from Russia and Ukraine as well as some anti-racism fans groups from Western Europe supported the movement.
One year before Romanov left the club he carried out a rebranding of the team. He renamed the FC MTZ-Ripo as FC Partisan to make the name of the club more “attractive” for “normal supporters.” The millionaire did not pay attention to the fans protesting against the renaming. But in 2012, when he announced the cessation of financial support of the club, the only group interested in the existence of Partisan were the ultras who would go on to follow the football club.
Revival of the Anti-Fascist Football Club
Several cases in football history when supporters revived a club exist. Most of them occurred in Britain (AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester) and though it has never happened in Eastern Europe before the FC Partisan case took place.
Existence in isolation and constant rivalry with more numerous groups of ultras and football hooligan groups of the FC Dinamo Minsk made Partisan supporters a close-knit group with a sense of solidarity.
Shortly after it became known that the sponsor who funded the football club was gone, the supporters established a public association with the same name “Partisan Minsk” and started fundraising to revive the club. According to Leanid Piatkevich, the leader of Partisan supporters and currently the director of the club, besides the supporters from Minsk, ultra groups from Germany, Ukraine, Sweden and other countries also collected money.
The Partisan team spent the season 2012 playing in Minsk championship (division 4) and succeeded to raise money to play in the Second league (Division 3) in the season 2013.
Uncertain Future of Partisan
Belarusian authorities could not overlook such act of solidarity very rare in today’s Belarusian society. Everything suggests that the future of Partisan is not serene.
In March, riot police beat a group of young supporters (17-19 years old) at an away friendly match with the FC Asipovichy to intimidate the Partisan ultras. Later on a riot police official could not explain the reasons for the beatings. The last two home matches of Partisan were disrupted. At the time of the first match, an ambulance car did not come to the stadium. According to the regulations of the Belarus Football Federation, the match cannot perform if there is no ambulance crew at the stadium. The second time, all the stadiums in Minsk refused to rent a playing field to the club.
Until now, sports remained one of the few spheres of public life in Belarus where people could organise with no risk of the authorities’ disruptions. The future of FC Partisan will show if it is still the case.
Who Funds the Opposition, EU Neighbourhood Barometer – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Belarusian analysts remain sceptical about integration within the post-Soviet space. BISS invites discussion on its new social contracts research results. The Centre for European Transformation presents the results of the "EU-Neighbourhood Barometer" on the attitudes of Belarusians towards their own country and the European Union.
The Eastern European Studies Centre examines the third sector in Belarus. The World Bank approved a new programme for Belarus for the coming years. What does the Partnership Strategy mean for Belarusians?
Lyabedzka: My Party does not Receive a Penny from the West – one of the most discussed issues of the week was articulated by Anatol Lyabedzka, UCP leader, at the recent EuroNest meeting in Brussels. In particular, Lyabedzka suggested checking the assistance that democratic countries provide for civil society in Belarus.
The politician explained his sudden suggestion that there are in existence some pseudo-democratic organisations which are supported alongside together with truly independent media, human rights activists and political structures. Euroradio spoke to the politician about his statement, which risks causing a new round of arguments in the democratic community.
EU Neighbourhood Barometer: What Belarusians think about Belarus and the EU? – Alyona Zuikova, from the Centre for European Transformation, prepared a paper analysing the results of the research component of the Regional Programme for EU communication. EU Neighbourhood Barometer gives a snapshot of the whole region, making it possible to compare the Belarusians public opinion on issues related to democracy, democratisation and Europeanization, with the opinion of the residents of other EaP countries. In particular, Belarusians have expressed a moderate position on most issues, while avoiding radical ones.
Eurasian Economic Union: A new Toy for the Three – The future of the Eurasian Economic Union, which Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan are to create by 2015, analysts say, is rather lacklustre. They believe that by 2015, all the integration documents will be signed and ratified by the three countries, but the real integration will be visible later. This was discussed in a regular issue of the Amplituda TV TUT.by program, attended by experts Alexei Pikulik, BISS Academic Director, and Yuri Shevtsov, director of the Centre for European Integration.
BISS-Timeline #5 (May 2013) – The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) issued its regular monthly review of the major social, economical, political and cultural events in Belarus. The May issue covers US and EU sanctions' being lifted against Belarusian companies, a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, the opposition’s initiative to hold a ‘popular referendum’, some signs of liberalisation in the cultural landscape, etc.
The Bell, No.4 (34) – The Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC) presents an issue of the electronic newsletter The Bell is devoted to the analysis of the NGO sector in Belarus. In particular, Tatsiana Chulitskaya examines the current situation of the NGO sector in Belarus and stresses upon the main strengths and weaknesses of it; Yury Chavusau gives a brief review of Belarusian NGOs registered abroad and categorises them into four different types.
Presidential Election 2015: Opposition is Still Off – Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta noted that in 2015 the 5th presidential election will take place in Belarus, and respectively asks a number of experts whether the opponents of Lukashenka have a chance to update the Belarusian political Olympus. The experts – Andrei Egorov, Alexander Shpakovski, Valery Karablevich – were all practically on the same page and do not see strong candidates in the Belarusian opposition. "A crisis of age and cadres affects the fact that elections can go almost unopposed," stated Shpakovski.
The European Endowment for Democracy HQ opened. On 27 May the headquarters of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) were opened in Brussels. The Endowment is expected to provide assistance to civil society organisations, young pro-democracy leaders, and independent media outlets. The Endowment will be financed by the European Commission funds and EU member states. Over the first three years, the EED budget will reportedly exceed €25 million.
The organisers of cultural events will have to get concert licences. The presidential decree of 5 June provides for compulsory obtaining of a certificate for an organisation to conduct cultural and entertainment events in Belarus (concert licence) at the Department of ideological work. Independent artists believed that such a decision could be caused by the desire of the authorities to have additional control over this realm.
World Bank approves new Partnership Strategy for Belarus. Accepted on 6 June, the new Country Partnership Strategy for Belarus for 2014-2017 is based on consultations at all levels of society, and with development partners. It commits to help reforms in key areas needed for the country to regain competitiveness, but also to maintain macroeconomic stability and sustainable growth.
The State of the World's Children 2013. On 30 May UNICEF issued its annual report on the issues of children with disabilities. The report urges the governments of all countries to sign, ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To the moment, 128 countries, including the EU, have signed the Convention; Belarus is not in the list.
Poland invites Belarusians to a new scholarship program. Polish MFA in cooperation with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education launched the Stefan Banach scholarship program designed for students studying economics, engineering, natural and agricultural sciences, or European studies and living in the EaP countries. Any Belrusian can participate at the new Program, regardless of his/her political views.
Belarusians earned abroad nearly a billion dollars. In 2012, Belarusian citizens received from abroad 913.1 million dollars of personal transfers, states the Belarus National Bank. Thus, the official earnings of Belarusians abroad have increased by 15.2% in comparison with 2011.
Belarus becomes world's top country for SPAM. Belarus has eclipsed the US to become the biggest single source of global spam, according to cloud-based email and web security firm AppRiver. After the spike happened on 13 April, AppRiver said it began recording an average of 12.3 million spam messages per day from Belarus – which is now climbing.
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.