Russia and the Travel Ban, EU Ambassadors Return, Political Prisoners – Politics and Civil Society Digest
While Moscow has confirmed that those on the Belarus authorities' exit ban list will be unable to leave Russia either, official Minsk started to show willingness to release prisoners. It was also hinted that Belarusian Ambassadors to Brussels and Warsaw may return soon. Just in advance of this, Russia announced that it will be lowering the flow of cured oil to Druzhba pipeline and ship more crude to Europe via the BTS 2 terminal at Saint Petersburg. Belarus and Russia continue their “airline” conflict as well.
Belarusian civil society organisations peak this week with civic education events. Topics vary from leadership through assistance to HIV vulnerable groups to registration and security issues for civil society organisations.
Russia will support the Belarusian government in barring citizens from leaving Belarus. Russian Border Services Chief Vladimir Pronichev has announced that Belarusian citizens barred from leaving the country will not be allowed to use Russian territory for travelling to other countries. According to Pronichev, any Belarusian citizen, who is not allowed to leave his country will be stopped both by Belarusian and Russian border guards on the countries' borders.
EU ambassadors returning to Belarus? On March 30, the Brussels-based online newspaper EUobserver reported that EU ambassadors are to return en bloc to Belarus shortly after the Easter break, “unless President Alexander Lukashenka does something drastic in the meantime”.
Minsk started to show willingness of release prisoners. In the near future the decision to pardon opposition prisoners, convicted of the events on December 19, 2010, can be made, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenka at the government session held on 5 April to discuss foreign policy matters. At the meeting Lukashenka also noted Belarus did not expel the EU ambassadors, but will consider their return on a name-tol-name basis.
The most likely reason is the Russia beginning to apply pressure. The old days of making hard currency of refined crude seem to be over, so the real fight between Russia and Belarus may kick off soon. “Airline wars” are already a conflict in full swing.
Why Vital Rymasheuski was not detained is the most debated issue of the reported week. Narodnaya Volya "revealed" that in the same compartment, where Sergei Kalyakin, Anatoly Lebedko and Alexander Atroshchankau were detained, Vital Rymasheuski, who was with them, got to Moscow and then to Brussels. At the same time Rymasheuski claims that the authorities allow to travel abroad only to their lobbyists.
Kavalenka is forcibly fed in prison clinic. Jailed Belarusian opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka, whose health has deteriorated due to a lengthy hunger strike, reportedly is being forcibly fed in a prison psychiatric clinic in the eastern city of Vitsebsk. Prison officials told Kavalenka's relatives on April 2 that Kavalenka’s state of health is “close to grave” and a decision was made to feed him forcibly with a milk formula using a feeding tube. Belarusian Helsinki Committee asked the procurator's office to inspect conditions of Kavalenka's keeping in hospital.
Lebedko Reelected Leader of United Civil Party. Anatoly Lebedko was reelected as chairperson of the United Civil Party (UCP) in a secret ballot at the party’s convention held in Minsk on March 31. At the suggestion of Lebedko, participants elected Lew Marholin, Lyudmila Petsina and Antanina Kavalyova to be deputy chairpersons of the UCP.
Workshop for culture CSOs. On April 6, the Office of European Expertise and Communications (OEEC, Minsk), in collaboration with the Office for Democratic Belarus (Brussels) and EuroBelarus (Vilnius) conducted a workshop for representatives of the Belarusian CSOs working in cultural area. The participants received information on opportunities for cooperation with European partners and organisations and learned about various thematic European programs. The meeting took place in the Gallery Ў in Minsk. According to the OEEC newsletter.
Presentation of the Marketplace. On April 09, at 3 pm the Minsk International Educational Center IBB hosts a presentation of the Capacity Building Marketplace ORGCONSULTING.BY. Marketplace is a joint project of a number of key Belarusian CSOs and is developed as a platform for providing consulting services to CSOs on the basis of market mechanisms. The presentation is conducted for consultants and experts in the field of organizational development and aimed at engaging them to work on the Marketplace platform.
Face Gallery of the campaign "Budzma!" Website budzma.org presents a new section "Faces" where it is possible to meet with prominent personalities of the campaign "Budzma Belarusians!" who push it forward and actively promote Belarusian culture. The circle of participants of the project is very broad: businessmen, public figures, advertisers, historians, and managers.
Award named Lev Sapieha. On April 4, at Warsaw University analyst Ales Lahvinets was awarded with the Lev Sapieha prize, which is given for outstanding contribution to the development of civil society and building of an independent and democratic Belarus. During the year Lahvinets will have the possibility to conduct lectures in five Polish universities, that are the founders of the award.
Young Front addresses MPs concerning death penalty moratorium. Civil organisation "Young Front", registered in the Czech Republic, addressed all members of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus with the demand to initiate a vote on introducing a death penalty moratorium in Belarus.
The first Bible in the modern Belarusian language. In January 2012, the Bible Society of Belarus issued the first Bible in the modern Belarusian language. Work on the book lasted for 10 years.
School of nurses in Gomel. Gomel NGO "Social Projects" will prepare 30 qualified nurses out of active senior citizens and students to care for people in need. The project is implemented under the program "The Meeting Place is Dialogue" with the support of the German Foundation "Memory, Responsibility and Future".
Training on security issues. The Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs (Lithuania) is recruiting for an in-depth training on the security of social activism. Participants will learn about approaches and special software that help to work more safely and effectively in unfavourable conditions. Dates of workshops: April-May 2012. The venue will be shared with only to selected participants. According to belngo.info newsletter.
Workshop on CSOs registration. On April 16, in the Minsk Legal Transformation Center and the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs will organize a workshop entitled "Creating and registering non-profit organizations." The trainers are experienced lawyers in the Belarusian non-profit law, Olga Smolyanka and Yuri Chausov. The workshop invites participation from representatives with initiative that are going to start registration of a nonprofit organization. According to the newsletter of Legal Transformation Center.
Educational course on work with HIV vulnerable groups. NGO "ACT" and Youth Education Center "Fialta" launched a long-term training course for specialists in the field of HIV on work with hard to reach and vulnerable groups (sex partners of injection drug users, clients of sex business workers and their regular sex partners, etc). The course is held with support from a grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
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.
Faces of Belarusian Politics: The Faceless Makey
The oppositional analysts used to hope that the head of the Presidential Administration of Belarus Uladzimir Makey would establish better relations with the West. His background created the impression of a sophisticated politician familiar with the West. He made it to the top of the Belarusian regime from a small Belarusian village and shabby army positions.
Indeed, he became the head of Presidential Administration, effectively Lukashenka's right hand in 2008, to lead the new rapprochement with the EU. He then survived a new wave of confrontation with the West after the last presidential elections and then launched the wide-scale offensive against Western sanctions. On Friday, Makey again urged to restore dialogue with the EU, saying that nobody in Belarus doubted the aims of establishing independent democratic state with a strong civil society.
53-years-old Makey comes from a village in western Hrodna province. He has ambitions and talents but apparently lacked connections and he studied at Minsk Foreign Languages Institute. In late 1970s it was a place with best prospects of working with foreigners in Soviet Belarus or abroad.
However, after graduating with a double major in German and English he chose a military carrier. Despite speculations, there are no reasons to say he became a "spy" working for Soviet military intelligence GRU. More probably, he served as a military interpreter or in similar minor position in 1980-1992.
Russian newspaper “Krasnaya Zvezda” published memoirs of a colleague who worked together with Makey in 1980s in the Group of Soviet Troops in Germany. Their unit was based in Wünsdorf conducted surveys of military and political situation in Western Europe, apparently using open sources. In other words, Makey served as a lower-ranked officer. It was Lukashenka who promoted him to the rank of colonel.
After dissolution of Soviet Union Makey quit the Red Army and went to work for the Foreign Ministry of now independent Belarus. In early 1990s, any person having decent knowledge of foreign languages might immediately get such a job as the ministry was in the process of formation. Then he was sent for a short-term training in Diplomatic Academy in Vienna in 1992-3.
In 1993-1995, he worked at the Foreign Ministry in Minsk, mainly in analytical and protocol sections. In late 1990s, Makey briefly became Belarusian representative at the Council of Europe. In January 1997, the Council of Europe effectively broke even minimal relations with the country and Makey stayed in Paris as an adviser of Belarusian embassy.
Glamour Under Dictatorship
After returning to Belarus, he headed the European Cooperation Department of Foreign Ministry and then became in 2000 an aide to the president. Belorusskaya Gazeta reported later the rumours that Lukashenka just had liked one of Makey's speeches at the Foreign Ministry conference.
In Belarus access to the ruler is key to career success. In July 2008, after explosion at the Liberation Day festivities Lukashenka appointed Makey as head of his Presidential Administration replacing the once powerful Viktar Sheiman. After 1996 constitutional coup, the Administration emerged as real centre of power in Belarus which controls all major decisions in the country.
In 2008, Lukashenka brought into power a new group of people while getting rid of old cadres including the once powerful No. 2 – Viktar Sheiman. Analysts relate the purge to the influence of the president's son. There are undoubtedly good relations between Makey and Viktar Lukashenka. However, they belong to different generations and have too different backgrounds to presume equality between them.
Makey's son from the first marriage works in Belarusian Foreign Ministry in good positions. In 2007, Makey-senior married for the second time – his new wide is a much younger actress and TV presenter Viera Paliakova. She is known for her celebrity talk show “Life as It Is” on the state TV which started at the time when she got engaged with Makey.
The Jungle Law
One of Lukashenka closest associates does not look ideologically charged. He calls the Soviet Union a “great country” but does not display any nostalgia for Communist rule.
He refers to Lukashenka in every second sentence, and even emulates his boss' rough talk. But he also cites Karel Čapek and Nikolay Berdyaev, and rather enjoys recalling the squares and fish markets of Brussels in his interviews.
Makey is a representative of opportunistic political clique which just wishes that the West leaves it to its own devices. Speaking at Belarus-German forum in 2009 he rebuked the West that it was wrong to assess the situation in Belarus considering only the scale of reforms only in political sphere.
Later on, he outwardly dismissed Western moral foundations, declaring in 2011, “A jungle law effectively dominates the world. “Everyone for himself”, i.e. the rule of stronger functions, i.e. the stronger has the right and will dictate his will. It causes a series of armed conflicts. How to survive in this situation, preserve the country, multiply its wealth – that is the question.”
But these words do not make him a hardliner. Chairman of the United Civic Party Anatol Lyabedzka recalled his contacts with Makey in late 1990s: “He never averted meeting representatives of political opposition, was rather open to talk, demonstrated some adherence to European values.”
Already as the head of Administration, Makey regularly used at the meetings of Public Consultative Council the Belarusian – something extraordinary for regime's officials. Last time Lukashenka officially spoke in this language was in 2003, and Belarusian is permanently under persecution of state authorities. Chairman of Belarusian Language Society Alieh Trusau emphasised that at the meetings of all officials only Makey switched to the Belarusian – rather unconventional behaviour for the nomenclature.
Makey's dry and inarticulate public speeches are remarkable even among other such Belarusian officials. The Moscow-based web-site Belaruski Partyzan called the usually gloomy-looking Makey “a man without face.” And yet, he is one of the faces of the Belarusian regime and one of its key decision-makers.
Indeed, Makey may facilitate transformation of the current regime and make deals with the West. Of course, he demonstrates no firm adherence to democracy, and he has no vision of his own and no great political ambitions, unlike for instance much younger Viktar Lukashenka. In this regard he resembles the Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich. Makey will be able to remain a shadow analyst and executive secretary under any Belarusian ruler.