Supporting EU unity, Bielaja Ruś congress, new unemployment policy, KGB name will remain – Belarus state press digest
Belarus strongly supports EU unity and reiterates that the Eastern Partnership should not become a dividing zone between the European Union and the East. Bielaja Ruś will not become a political party any time soon. The KGB should not change its name, Lukashenka argues.
A new unemployment policy responds to the unpopular ‘social parasite tax.’ Belarus may rival the Russian energy sector after the nuclear power plant (NPP) opens. Foreign investors reluctant to embrace the heavy social obligations imposed by the government. Belarusian workers disappearing in Russia.
All this in the new edition of the Belarusian state press digest.
Foreign policy and domestic politics
Belarus strongly support the EU’s unity. Alexander Lukashenka met the EU’s Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, reports Belarus Segodnia. The Belarusian leader expressed his firm support of a strong and unified European Union. ‘The European Union is one of the most powerful pillars on our planet, and the destruction of this major pillar in a multipolar world would destroy not only global security but also the global economic system.’
Speaking about the Eastern Partnership, Lukashenka expressed his wish that it were more practice-oriented. ‘We cannot allow the Eastern Partnership to become a purely political organisation, and God forbid it to become a dividing zone between the European Union and Russia, China and the East as a whole.’ Lukashenka also thanked the commissioner for assisting in the negotiations on Belarus’s accession to the World Trade Organisation.
The KGB should not change its name, says Lukashenka. Meeting the chairman of the State Security Committee (KGB), Valiery Vakuĺčyk, Lukashenka said that retaining the historical name of the Committee was the right decision. The current generation of security officers should not be ashamed of the name, which fully reflects the tasks assigned to the agency, reports Belarus Segodnia.
The president especially noted the KGB’s contribution to the fight against corruption: ‘No one did more than the KGB in the area of large-scale corruption… The ruthless struggle against corruption protects our state from disintegration and internal conflicts. Our people will not tolerate corruption, it will surely lead to disorder.’ Lukashenka regrets that other law enforcement bodies do not keep up with the KGB’s efforts in combating corruption.
Bielaja Ruś will not become a political party any time soon. On 19 January, the Republican Public Association ‘Bielaja Ruś’, considered the ‘association of the establishment,’ held its 3rd congress. The organisation summed up its work during 2012-2017 and approved new versions of its charter and programme, writes Belarus Segodnia. The congress elected Hienadź Davydźka, the head of state media holding Belteleradiocompany, as Bielaja Ruś’s new chairman. Attention once again turned to the long-discussed issue of transforming the organisation into a political party.
According to the head of the presidential administration, Natallia Kačanava, this step would not be appropriate at the present time. ‘Bielaja Ruś or some other public organisation will become a party when members of the organisation demand it. This we have not seen so far.’ The newly elected chairman agreed with her point: ‘The goal of any party is the struggle for power,’ said Davydźka. ‘But Bielaja Ruś struggles only for the prosperity of our society. It is an army of patriots who work to consolidate and develop civil society.’
Economy and social policy
Belarus introduced a new unemployment policy. The government issued Decree No. 1 to tackle unemployment in place of the notorious ‘social parasite tax.’ The decree provides for the establishment of permanent commissions with local authorities. The commissions will approach people individually, study their personal circumstances, and render employment assistance.
The state will strengthen retraining for the unemployed, offer temporary employment, and teach the basics of entrepreneurship. At the same time, the decree provides for the equal social responsibility of all citizens. Those who do not want to work will have to pay full reimbursement of the costs that are subsidised by the state: transport, education, healthcare, housing and communal services, informs Hrodzienskaja Praŭda.
Foreign investors do not accept the heavy social obligations imposed by Belarus. In 2017, Lukashenka approved a list of 10 large industrial enterprises for privatisation by Chinese investors with certain preconditions: preserving the production profile, technical re-equipment and modernisation, expansion of the product range, and maintaining salaries at the level of the region’s average.
Zongsheng Corporation showed interest in purchasing 60-75% of Homsielmaš machine industry plant. However, the Chinese required that the Belarusian government reduced the number of workers by at least a third and paid the plant’s debts before the deal. Besides, the corporation insisted on replacing the management at the enterprise with Chinese managers. The Belarusian side suspended negotiations as a result of conditions it considered unacceptable, reports Respublika.
Belarus may become a rival to Russian energy sector after NPP launch. In the pages of Mink Times, the leading analyst at the Centre for National Energy Security, Ihar Juškoŭ, analyses how the energy market will change after the opening of the Belarusian NPP. The first reactor of the NPP will service the domestic market, while the second will export energy to the EU.
Belarus will not compete with Russia as an electricity exporter because Russia does not sell energy on these markets. However, Belarusian energy may rival Russian gas in both domestic and EU markets. The NPP is expected to replace 4.5bn cubic metres of gas annually – representing a huge loss for Russia’s Gazprom.
Belarusian workers continue to disappear in Russia. In 2017 the Viciebsk regional police received 130 requests to search for Belarusians who disappeared after leaving the country to work abroad. The region has one of the highest rates of labour emigration to Russia. Eleven residents of Viciebsk region died, while the fate of 32 people remains unknown, informs Sielskaja Hazieta.
The official police representative, Volha Škuratava, points out that often people bring misfortune on themselves. After earning their first salary, they begin to drink, lose their documents, or stop contacts with their relatives. Finally, some ask for help by trying to contact either relatives or the embassy and thus get out of trouble. However, others turn to drink and begging or fall victim to accidents. People freeze, poison themselves with bad alcohol or become enslaved by criminal groups.
The state press digest is based on a review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media primarily conveys the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how the Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.
Trump support in Belarus, MFA staff cuts, legal education reform – Ostrogorski Centre digest
During December and January, the Ostrogorski Centre analysed the ongoing dispute between Belarus and Lithuania over the Astraviec nuclear power plant (NPP), Belarusian army reforms, and the national immigration policy.
Our analysts also commented in the media on growing support for Donald Trump among Belarusians, a 30% staff cut in the central apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, personnel renewal trends in the government establishment, and the implications for Belarus of a new escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Centre also held a conference on legal education in cooperation with the Belarusian State University’s law faculty, supported by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Minsk.
Ryhor Astapenia analyses whether the West will join Lithuania’s crusade against Belarus’s nuclear power plant project. On the one hand, many Western politicians see Lithuania’s campaign against the Belarusian NPP as politicised and even panicked. On the other hand, perhaps thanks to Lithuania’s position, any cooperation (except on security issues) between Belarus and the West in the atomic sphere has become less feasible. Therefore, while Lithuania loses the conflict diplomatically, Belarus does not win either.
Siarhei Bohdan describes how Minsk silently builds a new army. The Belarusian government has adapted its policies in response to the Kremlin’s staunch refusal to provide Belarus with heavy weapons. Official Minsk continues to build an army better suited to its limited needs and financial constraints, while quietly discarding its Soviet-era, heavier arms without replacement. The simplification of existing army structures automatically follows, which will also reduce offensive capacities.
Alesia Rudik discusses Belarus’s immigration policy and how it perpetuates the country’s demographic crisis. In the context of low birth and high death rates, the Belarusian population can only grow through increased immigration. However, Belarus still has no clear policy to encourage labour migration. Moreover, bureaucratic procedures, such as work permits, remain difficult to obtain for the majority of foreigners apart from citizens of CIS member countries, especially Russians, who have special conditions for working in Belarus.
Reform of legal education in Belarus and the UK: the exchange of experience and vision for the future
On 28 December 2017, the Ostrogorski Centre, in cooperation with the Faculty of Law of the Belarusian State University and supported by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Minsk, conducted a conference under the title “The reform of legal education in Belarus and the UK: the exchange of experience and vision for the future.”
The 16 speakers included representatives of the British Embassy, the Ministry of Education of Belarus, the Belarusian State University, Hrodno State University and Brest State University. They comprised legal academics and administrators as well as practitioners from Belarus. In addition, three speakers came from UK-based institutions, namely the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the University of Liverpool.
Conference guests included representatives of various government bodies, academics from public and private universities, as well as representatives from Belarusian NGOs (around 40 people in total). The conference proved an opportunity not only to share the experiences of Belarusian and UK-based academics, but also to help shape the debate on legal education reform in Belarus.
The Ostrogorski Centre broadcast the conference live on YouTube and Facebook, and has made videos of each panel available on its YouTube channel (links below). The conference languages were Belarusian and Russian.
Comments in the media
The Atlantic magazine quotes Yaraslau Kryvoi in its recent article about decreasing global support for Donald Trump. Belarus, however, shows the opposite trend: growing Belarusian approval for Trump likely has more to do with the American president’s leadership style than any U.S. policies. According to Yaraslau, the Belarusian leadership sees Trump as a macho leader similar to the one Belarus has itself. Like Trump, Alexander Lukashenka promotes himself as someone fighting on behalf of the people against the elite.
Commenting to Belsat TV, Igar Gubarevich opines that the 30% staffing cut in the central apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has become a big stress for Belarusian diplomats. The Ministry’s comprehensive tasks require not only good quality experts, but also a sufficient quantity, otherwise the cuts will damage the interest of Belarus as a country.
Siarhei Bohdan, interviewed on Polish Radio, argues that the government establishment renews itself more efficiently than the opposition. It now includes completely different people than it did two decades ago. They value independent Belarus more than the Soviet Union, and MP Ihar Marzaliuk presents a good example. ‘I am convinced that Ihar Marzaliuk is not a lone wolf, but rather the tip of the iceberg, an example of generational change in the Belarusian power elite,’ says Siarhei.
On Radio Liberty, Siarhei Bohdan discusses the consequences of a new escalation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the role of Iran, and the implications for Belarus. In the Iranian-Saudi confrontation, Belarus has sided with the conservative Arab coalition that it thinks has a higher chance of winning, and which is clearly the wealthier side.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The following papers from partner institutions have been added this month:
- Uladzimir Kavalkin. Handbook on researching violations and corruption in public procurement in Belarus. BIPART, 2017.
- Darya Urban. Influence of the legal and judicial system on doing business in Belarus. IPM Research Centre, 2017.
- Maryia Akulava, Hanna Ahinskaya. Barriers and drivers of women’s entrepreneurship in Belarus. BEROC, 2017.
- Valiery Zhurakouski, Katarzyna Mirecka, Izabela Styczyńska. Review of the situation of children and young people with disabilities in Belarus. CASE Belarus, 2017.
- Aleh Mazol. Determinants of poverty with and without economic growth. Explaining Belarus’s poverty dynamics during 2009-2016. BEROC, 2017.
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.