Second Annual London Conference, growing Belarus-Russia tension, Bologna process – Ostrogorski Centre digest
The Ostrogorski Centre co-organised the Second Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies in cooperation with University College London and the Belarusian Francis Skaryna Library and Museum.
In February, analysts of the Ostrogorski Centre discussed Russia’s attempts to destabilise the region around Belarus, the possibility of Moscow toppling Lukashenka, and the outcomes of Belarusian foreign policy in 2016.
The Centre has also released an analytical paper entitled ‘Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area’, which resulted from the Fourth Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference.
Second Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies
On Saturday 25 February, the Second Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies was organised by the Ostrogorski Centre in cooperation with University College London and the Belarusian Francis Skaryna Library and Museum.
Speakers from Belarus, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, the United States, and other countries presented and discussed Belarus-related research. The conference panels covered Francis Skaryna’s work and legacy, problems of Belarusian national identity, foreign policy of Belarus and comparative politics, social and political movements, and language and literature.
The main conference was followed by the Annual Lecture on Belarusian Studies, delivered by Dr Ales Susha, Deputy Director of the National Library of Belarus and Chairman of the International Association of Belarusian Language and Culture Specialists.
All conference presentations will be uploaded online in podcast form and selected papers from the conference will be published in the Journal of Belarusian Studies.
Siarhei Bohdan analyses Moscow’s actions to erect a border with Belarus and undermine its links with Ukraine and the Baltics. Russia accuses the West and its allies in the region of undermining links between Eastern European countries. However, its own policies pursue exactly the same aim. Minsk must fight hard to resist these efforts by the Kremlin.
Igar Gubarevich provides an overview of Belarusian diplomacy’s achievements and failures in 2016. In 2016, Belarusian diplomats succeeded in getting rid of most Western sanctions, improving the international legitimacy of the national parliament, regularising dialogue with Europe, and converting Poland from a strong critic into a reliable partner. Nevertheless, they failed to make Lukashenka fully presentable to his peers in Europe, alienated Ukraine’s political elite, botched export growth and diversification of the export market, and turned Lithuania from a supporter into a foe.
Ryhor Astapenia discusses whether scenarios in which the Kremlin attempts to topple Lukashenka are possible. Recently, rhetoric surrounding Russian-Belarusian relations has become so sharp that some journalists and analysts believe the Kremlin plans to overthrow Aliaksandr Lukashenka or occupy Belarus. However, off and on conflict remain a fixture of Belarusian-Russian relations. Despite belligerent grumbling, Lukashenka mostly upholds the Kremlin’s interests, promoting cooperation between the two countries.
Analytical paper: Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area
The Ostrogorski Centre releases an analytical paper which resulted from the Fourth Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference ‘Education as a Human Right: Modernising Higher Education to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century’.
In 2015, Belarus joined the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and committed to putting a Roadmap for higher education reform into effect by 2018. The implementation of the Roadmap is running behind schedule, which poses a threat to the fulfilment of Belarus’s obligations by the due date.
The paper released analyses of the main challenges to implementation of the Roadmap in Belarus; it also provides recommendations which could help to fulfil commitments on time and benefit a wider range of stakeholders.
- Read the full paper: Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area
Comments in the media
On Polish radio, Siarhei Bohdan discusses the process of destabilisation around Belarus caused by Russian politics. Moscow has erected a border with Belarus where it never existed before, and tries to curtail Belarusian exports via Baltic ports. Russia accuses the EU of destabilising the region, but actively does so itself. Fragmentation of the region will lead to its impoverishment, Siarhei argues.
Alesia Rudnik discusses the recent political graffiti cases on Polish radio. Political graffiti can be seen as a new form of civic participation which attracts the attention of the public and the media, while the authorities see the phenomenon as a threat.
Ryhor Astapenia comments on the latest developments in Belarusian-Russian relations for the Polish news portal Wirtualna Polska. Contrary to the disinformation of some Russian media sources, Lukashenka does not intend to leave the Eurasian Economic Union and CSTO. However, this does not mean he wants to pursue further military or political integration. Instead, he focuses mostly on the economic aspect.
The website The Conflict Comment quotes Igar Gubarevich in an article about the Russia-Belarus energy dispute. According to Igar, both parties have leverage in this dispute and both are interested in finding an accommodating solution, as was the case on many other occasions. Belarus remains of strategic importance to Russia, both as a trading partner and as a demarcation line for NATO and the EU.
Vadzim Smok discusses whether Belarus stands a chance in a new oil war with Russia on Polish radio. Oil products remain Belarus’s No.1 export commodity, making up a third of Belarus’s export revenues. With no alternative options for hydrocarbon supplies and Minsk’s decreasing political and security leverage, the country will have to play by Moscow’s rules.
The British newspaper The Independent quotes Igar Gubarevich in an article about the legacy of the Chernobyl disaster. According to Igar, Belarus avoids drawing public attention to the legacy of Chernobyl for two main reasons. The image of a contaminated country might hamper its efforts to promote exports and attract foreign investment, and it may be at odds with the government’s newly adopted policy of pursuing nuclear energy by building the BelNPP.
The BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following people: Vitaŭt Rudnik, Alesia Rudnik, Andrej Paŭliučenka, Kaciaryna Siniuk, Anatoĺ Lappo, Dzmitryj Kaliečyc, Uladzimir Aŭhuscinski, Aliaksandr Center, Andrej Bryšcielieŭ, and Siarhiej Savicki.
We have also updated the profiles of Viktar Šynkievič, Siarhiej Pisaryk, Ihar Buzoŭski, Michail Žuraŭkoŭ, Lieanid Maĺcaŭ, Vasiĺ Žarko, Marat Afanaśjeŭ, Aliaksiej Pikulik, Uladzimir Tracciakoŭ, Ivan Dziemidovič, Ivan Žarski, Ihar Vojtaŭ, Aliaksandr Zabaroŭski, and Dzmitryj Kruty.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
Yaraslau Pryhodzich. The anatomy of Belarusian joint stock companies. BEROC, 2017.
Aliaksandr Autushka-Sikorski, Alena Artsiomenka. Work of the High Technology Park: a threefold increase in exports of IT services and what would happen if the park is closed. BISS, 2017.
Vadzim Smok. Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area. Ostrogorski Centre, 2017.
Uladzimir Akulich, Yuliya Yafimenka, Uladzislau Ramaniuk, Katsiaryna Aleksiatovich, Viktoriya Smalenskaya, Ales Alachnovič, Sierž Naŭrodski. 8th issue of the Macroeconomic Review of Belarus (4th quarter 2016). CASE-Belarus, 2017.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by completing this form.
The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com, BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.
Lukashenka meets oppositional editor, neutral coverage of protests, Russian pressure – Belarus state press digest
A palpable liberalisation is evident in the Belarusian state press with regard to politics and the economy in a context of threatening moves from Russia.
A major official newspaper writes about an opposition-led protest in a neutral tone for the first time in decades. Lukashenka meets with the chief editor of the oppositional newspaper Narodnaja Volia.
Russia instals a border with Belarus after 20 years of free movement. Belarusian food producers see 'irreversible losses' because of Russia’s restrictions.
This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.
Politics and security
Mass protests in Minsk call for abolition of the 'parasite tax'. An unsanctioned protest by Belarusians demanding that Decree No. 3 be abolished was held in Minsk, writes Belarus Segodnia. Participants gathered on Kastryčnickaja Square and marched along Independence Avenue to the headquarters of the Tax Ministry, where they made their demands known to the authorities. The march ended with the burning of tax notices. No incidents took place during the protest.
Belarus Segodnia republished this news from the state-funded Belta news agency, making the story the first time in decades that a major official newspaper writes about an opposition-led protest in a neutral tone. Other official publications stayed silent about both the protests in Minsk and the ones which followed in the regions two days later.
Lukashenka meets with chief editor of oppositional newspaper Narodnaja Volia. An hour and a half long tete-a-tete took place in the Palace of Independence in Minsk, reports Belarus Segodnia. Iosif Siaredzič, chief editor of Narodnaja Volia, asked Lukashenka for a personal audience during a recent 'Big talk with the president'; Lukashenka replied positively and the meeting occurred shortly thereafter. Ahead of the talk, Lukashenka stated that he was ready to discuss any issue but counted on unbiased coverage of the talk in the media.
Siaredzič chose not to reveal the details of the talk. However, he did explain that he was satisfied, as the talk appeared to be open and sincere. 'The president is worried about the developments in Belarus. Today we should all think of how to prevent any disasters from shattering our country,” Siaredzič said.
Russia reinstates border with Belarus after 20 years of free movement. On 7 February, FSB-introduced regulations regarding the Belarusian-Russian border zone came into effect, writes Narodnaja Hazieta. Over the past 20 years, citizens of Belarus and Russia have been able to visit each other without border checks. However, the risk of terrorism and the growth of migration have pushed Russia to re-establish the border, according to Russian officials. The Russian side regularly detained persons banned from entering the country on the border with Belarus.
Citizens of Belarus will only need a valid passport to enter Russia. The border zone now has a special status, and Belarusians who wander into Russian territory while searching for mushrooms, which often happens, could be detained and asked to show their documents. Meanwhile, citizens of Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic countries, and Poland, who frequently enter Russia via Belarus, will have to change their routes, as they can now only enter via international checkpoints in Latvia, Ukraine, or through airports.
The state to reduce control over business. The government is drafting a law which will make doing business in Belarus easier, Respublika informs. This move followed Lukashenka's demand that the authorities stop endless inspections of small and medium businesses. 'The focus should be on the outcome, not on the inspection as such. If the company is working and paying taxes, leave the people alone, let them do business,' the Belarusian leader said.
Newly opened companies will enjoy the absence of any inspections during a period of five years. Currently, the excessive number of procedures and requirements from the state remain one of the major obstacles hampering the development of entrepreneurship. While some people do not even dare to start their own business, others work illegal to avoid state control and over-regulation.
Belarusian food producers see 'irreversible losses' because of Russian restrictions. Belarusian exports are being banned as relations with the Russian food control agency rapidly deteriorate, reports Sielskaja Hazieta. In January, the agency labelled 40 food items 'suspicious', and recently introduced additional restrictions aiming to mitigate the 'risk of African swine fever'. Russia claims that it has detected swine fever on the border with Belarus several times in 2014-2017, while inside Russia 250,000 pigs have been killed because of a pandemic in 2016.
Belarusian experts claim that the quality of local meat and dairy fully meet Customs Union standards. Belarusian food exports to Russia amounted to $2bn in 2016, going mainly to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Some foodstuffs bring even more profit than oil production exports. Without the Russian market, however, Belarusian producers face 'huge and irreversible losses'.
Belarus starts production of 3D printers. Respublika writes that the technology park of the Belarusian National Technical University has started production of 3D printers to be used for industrial and food purposes. The technopark plans to produce 50 printers a day by 2018. The producers plan to instal printers in most Belarusian plants as well as schools. One Belarusian printer now costs around $1,000. Future plans include the creation of an 8-metre tall 3D printer for constructing buildings. The university is currently developing concrete that can be used for this purpose.
Discussion surrounding the International Congress of Belarusian Studies emerges in a national newspaper. Belarus Segodnia publishes a letter from Andrej Kazakievič, director of the Political Sphere Institute and head of the organising committee of the International Congress of Belarusian Studies. Kazakievič's letter was response to an article by the newspaper's columnist Andrej Mukavozčyk, who accused the Congress of leeching funds from the EU and attempting to influence public opinion in the interest of foreign parties.
Kazakievič replied that the Congress is a unique event where researchers from Belarus and all over the world present a diversity of opinions without censorship. Inside Belarus, dozens of conferences of state institutions with participation of top officials are also held annually with the support of Western donors. In this regard, the Congress is hardly different from any other international conference, including official Belarusian ones, which also seek foreign financing.
The state press digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.