Opinion: No illusions about Western support for democracy in Belarus

There should be no illusions about Western support for Belarusian democracy. At least until the victory of the latter. Almost everything that EU governments do today is either symbolic gestures or the realization of their national interests in the Solidarity with Belarus wrapper.

❗ A month has passed since Aliaksandr Taraikouski’s murder in the center of Minsk and the torture of hundreds of peaceful protesters in the detention center on the Akrestsin street. There are no sanctions. Brussels is still discussing a list of people barred from entering the EU for fear of introducing Lukashenka (who not only refuses to travel to the EU, even if invited but openly accuses the West of plotting against Belarus).

❗ Remember the decision of the EU to allocate 53 million euros to the “Belarusian people”? Of this amount, only three million are going to be sent directly to the victims of the sadism of the security forces. 50 million has to go to fight the coronavirus. What the authorities will do with the money, given that they have long declared their victory in the battle against Covid-19 remains a mystery.

❗ Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine have started a whole competition to attract Belarusian IT companies. Have you heard about the transfer of fired workers there? And I have not. I have heard only about inviting potential investors.

In most cases, any Western support for Belarusian democracy has been limited to the following: to help so that almost all funds remain in their own country. For example, in form of payments of hotels for conferences, the organization of seminars, or educational projects.

Belarusian state propaganda likes to talk about the West showering “the opposition militants” with dollars. This is said by people who have no idea about transparency, control over funds and bureaucracy in the West.

Of course, better this support than no support. But at the moment only two things really matter: what is happening inside Belarus and how much money Belarusians abroad can raise for their compatriots at home.

Dźmitry Hurnievič

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Protest theatre, not-for-women jobs, and Kurapaty defense – Belarus civil society digest

Good Neighbour festival gathered around 120 grassroots leaders in Minsk. Urban festival Kartonka held in Vitebsk for the first time at a local printing plant.

Petitions.by team starts a tour over Belarus to change the regions for the better. Civil society involves the business and the media community in the discussion of the restaurant near Kurapaty and puts a pressure on the restaurant’s owners.

The report by Legal Initiative CSO confirms human rights violations in the Belarusian army. Her Rights Center discussed not-for-women jobs in Belarus. UN Human Rights Council adopted a critical resolution on Belarus,  ‘absurd by design and substance’ according to Belarusian MFA.

This and more in the new edition of Belarus civil society digest.

Summer festivals

Good Neighbor festival gathered around 120 grassroots leaders in Minsk. The event took place on June 30 and aimed to share best practices in engaging neighbours into joint activities to change the life of their local communities. The event was organized by the Office for European Expertise and Communications and supported by the US Embassy.

CSOs presented themselves at Our Day festival. On June 30, the Assembly of NGOs brought together civil society organizations and initiatives to present the third sector at a large music festival of Belarusian music Our Day. 12 CSOs organized their interactive, creative spots at a zone of civic activity.

ART picnic Mezhan’ to be held on July 14-15. This is an annual open-air festival held by downshifters who moved to live to Chyrvony Kastrychnik village in the Gomel region. They bought most of the houses there and organize festivals and excursions for the youth to promote the rural way of life. The art picnic includes fair of artisans, performances, as well as starry sky and amazing beauty of nature around.

Education

Biz4all-2 School trained new social entrepreneurs. The final presented 16 teams, which showed that many charitable projects and CSOs put the business component in the first place, which reduces dependence on foreign assistance. The Biz4all-2 School was held under Incubator of Social Entrepreneurship program, organized by ODB Brussels and supported by the EU.

Belarus education

A lecture in ECLAB. Source: eclab.by

ECLAB has the fourth graduation of students. During the academic year, the students took up to 10 academic courses. European College of Liberal Arts in Belarus (ECLAB) was created in 2014 as an informal alternative to the system of Belarus’ higher education with its shortcomings from the Soviet epoch. The Liberal Arts model combines research, contemporary art, intellectual journalism, and teaching.

Belarus Urban Fellowship accepts applications. The new program is organized by the New Ideas Center and designed for new leaders under 30 years’ old who is engaged in the development of regions and small cities. The first three sessions of the program will be held in Minsk and the fourth – in Berlin. Applications are accepted until July 15.

Media Management School opens its next set. During 5 months of training, the participants will deepen their knowledge in strategic planning, content management, the editorial board organization, etc. The School works since 2017 and has almost 50 graduates. The School is organized by Studio for Useful Competencies (Hrodna) and IBB School of Journalism. Deadline for applications is August 1.

Civil society activities

Petitions.by team starts a tour over Belarus to change the regions for the better. The organizers warn that they are not going to solve problems instead of local residents, but help to form a team of activists and tell how to achieve specific results. Petitions.by is a website through which every Belarusian can exercise her/his right to take part in governance through e-appeal to state bodies.

Civil society wins concessions while defending Kurapaty. The protest leaders attempted to enter into a dialogue with the authorities to discuss the situation around the place of Stalin-era executions near Minsk. They also involved the business and the media community in the discussion and put pressure on the restaurant owners near Kurapaty.

Belarus civil society

Belarusian civil society activists install a cross near Kurapaty. Source: racyja.com

Theatre play is dedicated to the construction of a battery plant. The independent theatre Krylya Khalopa in Brest presented a performance titled Antigone.IPOWER. The play is linked to the ancient Greek tragedy Antigone with the activity of Brest residents against the construction of a battery plant near the city. Thus, the art raises and communicates current public problems.

Talaka: 4 out of 5 Belarusian crowdfunding campaigns fail. During 5 years of its activity, a crowdfunding platform Talaka.by launched 1,824 initiatives. However, the results show that only 1 in 5 running projects successfully implemented. Most of them stop in the beginning. To solve this problem, Talaka kicks off its own crowdfunding campaign Talaka 2.0 to upgrade its functional.

Other

Discussion about not-for-women jobs took place in Minsk, on July 9. The event was organized by Her Rights Center and presented a survey on the list of prohibited jobs for women in Belarus. The list includes 181 professions and 42 working fields and forbids women to work as a diver, a carpenter or a driver of long-distance passenger buses with over 14 seats.

CASE Belarus: Employment of former prisoners can be profitable. The benefits of re-socialization and recruitment of former prisoners in Belarus can be up to $56K per person. This is one of the findings of a study on the assessment of the program for the reintegration of the released from prisons, conducted by the CASE Belarus Research Center. The study involved 30 former prisoners during 2014-2017.

Report on monitoring human rights violations in the Belarusian army released. 171 respondents took part in the online survey conducted by Legal Initiative CSO. 56.1% answered positively to the question of applying psychological pressure, a humiliation of honour and dignity during their obligatory military service. An interactive map with problematic military units of Belarus is expected on the results of monitoring.

UN Human Rights Council adopts a critical resolution on Belarus, renews country mandate. The resolution on Belarus was supported by 19 delegations, with 6 votes against and 21 abstentions. The document is based on the report prepared by Miklós Haraszti, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. Belarusian MFA calls the resolution ‘absurd by design and substance.’

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.




Bike Carnival, pressure on journalists, civil protests – Belarus civil society digest

Zrobim! environmental campaign opens its sixth season. Bike Carnival will be held in Minsk on May 12. Death penalty discussion resumes. Organizers of the annual Chernobyl Path rally start a local fundraising campaign.

Amendments to media law pass first reading in the parliament: BAJ suggestions not considered so far. BAJ monitoring report: in 2017, the situation was one of the toughest for Belarusian independent journalism in recent years. Belarusian Helsinki Committee presents a guide on human rights-based approach.

Brest citizens protest against dirty plant construction, protesters detained on May Day in Minsk. Drug convicts’ relatives still on hunger strike, seeking a meeting with Lukashenka. Belarusian Army ranked 41st out of 136 nations.

This and more in the new edition of Belarus civil society digest.

Civil society

Zrobim! environmental campaign opens its 6th seasonZrobim! is a part of Let’s Do It! global movement and organized by Belarusian environmental CSOs since 2012. Starting from April 21, volunteers clean unauthorized dumps and put them on an online map. The campaign will end on the Global Cleaning Day in September when the volunteers from 150 countries will come to the action all over the world.

Viva Rovar! Bike Carnival to be held in Minsk on May 12. This year the bicycle carnival Viva Rovar! (Viva, Bike!) is organized for the 3rd time. Last year, over 11,000 participants from Belarus, as well as Ukraine, Russia, Sweden, Lithuania and other countries registered for participation in the bicycle parade. The Minsk Cycling Society is among the organizers.

Round table on the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus held on April 18, Minsk. Organized by the Council of Europe the event involved members of the Belarusian Parliament and representatives of CSOs. Belarus is still the only executioner in Europe and Central Asia. Amnesty International in its annual report records at least two death sentences in Belarus in 2017 compared to at least four in 2016.

Charnobyl Path 2018 Source: greenbelarus.info

Charnobylski Shlykh action collects money through crowdfunding. Charnobylski Shlykh/ Chernobyl Path is a traditional action organized by political parties and CSOs on April 26 to remind about the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The organizers plan to raise 5K rubles ($2,500) to cover an information campaign. The recent political action on Freedom Day of March 25 collected almost $27K through crowdfunding.

Civil protests

Two thousand Brest citizens protesting dirty plant construction. On April 29, a Brest park was filled with protesters who gathered for a rally against the construction of the plant, approved by the authorities. A Chinese company is building a battery plant at a rapid pace near Brest. The work of the plant can cause severe damage to human health due to lead emissions.

Protesters detained on May Day in Minsk. At least nine people were arrested by the police before and during the protest in Minsk, which was organized by the REP Trade Union. The gathering was authorized by the city administration. Five of them are associates of the opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich. Later anarchist Vyachaslau Kasinerau was sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest.

Drug convicts’ relatives still on hunger strike, seeking a meeting with Lukashenka. On April 27, the members of the Mothers-328 movement started an indefinite hunger strike, seeking to mitigate the punishment under criminal article 328. They believe that punishment for drug users is disproportionate and too severe.

Education

Leadership in Local Communities kicked off. The long-term educational program has been launched for the 3rd time to empower grassroots leaders to lead positive changes in local communities. 28 activists from 25 communities were selected for this round. The program is implemented by the Office for European Expertise and Communications in partnership with Pact and the support of USAID.

Free educational course on Internet marketing for small towns launched. The project Job Connected allows people who lost their jobs or not satisfied with the conditions of their work, to acquire competencies to earn remotely. The educational online course runs from April to July. 440 people registered for participation, including residents of over 40 small Belarusian towns.

Media

Amendments to media law pass first reading: BAJ suggestions not considered so far. The Parliament approved the changes to the Law on Mass Media in the first reading with 98 MPs voted pro, 2 voted contra and 2 people abstained. One of the innovations is the mandatory identification of users posting comments on websites. A special commission will consider the suggestions of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) before the second reading.

BAJ Monitoring Report 2017. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) released an annual report on the situation in the sphere of Belarusian mass media last year. The key finding is that the situation appeared to be one of the toughest for Belarusian independent journalism in recent years. Thus, 101 cases of detention of journalists on duty were registered in 2017 compared to 13 cases in 2016.

Belarusian Helsinki Committee presents a guide on human rights-based approach. The guide in a user-friendly manner gives deeper and specialized knowledge how to add human rights to daily life, civic projects, and business. The service is provided in collaboration with The Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Other

Belarusian army

Belarusian army. Source: nn.by

European Parliament adopted a resolution on Belarus on April 19. The resolution supports the EU’s critical engagement with Belarus, as long as it is conditioned on the Belarusian authorities’ complete respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights. The document urges continued EU support to civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

IMF improves Belarus’ GDP growth forecast. Belarus’s economy will expand by 2.8% in 2018 and by 2.4 in 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in the April edition of its World Economic Outlook report. Earlier, the fund forecasted Belarus’ GDP growth at 0.7% in 2018.

Belarusian Army ranked 41st out of 136 nations. Last year Belarus took the 49th place in Global Firepower list. Military resources, diversity of weapon systems, natural resources, industry and geographical features, available manpower are taken into account. In 2017, the country increased arms exports by 15% and earned over $1 billion.

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.




Civil society fundraising in Belarus: time to go local and crowdfund?

Belarusian civil society celebrated Freedom Day in the heart of Minsk on 25th March thanks to a massive and successful fundraising campaign. Grassroots fundraising may be uncommon in Belarus, but a steady trend for the success of such campaigns has emerged.

During the Lukashenka era, the state has generally viewed civil society organisations (CSOs) with great suspicion and severely restricted their activities. CSOs faced serious difficulties both raising funds in Belarus and obtaining them from foreign donors. As a result, CSOs depended too heavily on foreign aid.

A changing political situation expands opportunities for new fundraising strategies. Civil society needs to focus on local sources of funds and work closely with target groups, businesses and the government. Recent success stories demonstrate that such practices have become possible.

However, this wisdom largely applies to one-off projects, events or short campaigns. Long-term projects remain virtually impossible to sustain through local fundraising. Organisations and the media, especially those dealing with human rights, democracy and the promotion of reforms, still rely on external support to continue their activity.

The state restricts, citizens ignore

Almost all Belarusian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) report that they have an unstable, even miserable, financial situation. The situation does not surprise in light of state restrictions on both local fundraising and foreign aid.

Mandatory registration of foreign aid with the Department for Humanitarian Affairs of the Presidential Affairs Office impacts all NGOs in Belarus. The regulations list certain activities for which foreign grants cannot be used, and in 2011 the government introduced criminal liability for violating the procedure for obtaining and using foreign aid.

Despite this, foreign aid functions as the most important source of revenue for Belarusian CSOs. They bypass legal ways of receiving it and usually bring cash to the country or invent other ways to obtain it. The state often uses difficulties with legalising foreign aid as a tool for cracking down on civil society, as in the cases of Alieś Bialiacki or a more recent case of independent trade unions.

Raising funds inside Belarus remains complicated due to restrictions on the independent economic activity of CSOs and also on sponsorship by legal entities. Businesses are afraid to donate to initiatives, with the exception of cultural or charitable ones, since the state can easily find a reason to make any business in Belarus illegal.

Ordinary Belarusians, meanwhile, have a vague understanding of what civil society is and why they should donate money to other citizens through such organisations. Maryna Dubina, a Green Network environmental activist, told Belarus Digest that citizens do not want to fund CSOs because they do not know them, do not trust them, and lack the will to take responsibility for public issues.

People are particularly afraid to engage in issues which are high on the government’s agenda, such as the Belarusian-Chinese Technology Park and the nuclear power plant. In such cases, citizens fear state repression.

imenamag.by project

According to Andrej Jahoraŭ, director of the Centre for European Transformation, Belarusians occasionally support grassroots initiatives dealing with simple problems like children, the disabled, vulnerable groups or issues related to popular personalities. However, a more institutionalised activity would not manage to finance itself through crowdfunding.

This, of course, results from government policy that has excluded CSOs from public life for decades. However, blame for civil society’s dire financial situation does not rest with the government alone. Many representatives of civil society appear hooked on foreign grants and lack an incentive to change fundraising strategies.

Recent funding shifts and the rise of crowdfunding

As Yury Čavusaŭ argues in the Belarusian Yearbook overview, the political warming in relations between official Minsk and the West changed donor strategies among the main sources of foreign aid to Belarus. The EU has increased its financial assistance, but it redistributed funds in favour of state bodies and the structures affiliated with the state. Thus, at the end of 2017, the EU published a programme of financial assistance to Belarus, which offers up to €136m to promote reforms. Meanwhile, CSOs note a significant decrease in grant opportunities for civil society in Belarus.

Some CSOs began to adapt to the new situation by changing their fundraising approach vis-a-vis foreign donors, or by redirecting the focus of their activities to cooperation with the authorities. Initiatives like the October Economic Forum and Minsk Dialogue presented successful examples of collaboration with the government on the highest level.

Other CSOs, especially small organisations and new start-up projects, turned to fundraising inside Belarus: these crowdfunded projects boomed in recent years. The platforms Talaka.org and Ulej.by offer over 2,000 projects for crowdfunding in all spheres of life, encompassing technology, culture and art, urban issues, education, travel, sport and society.

While not all of them, of course, raise the necessary funds, a number of large-scale success stories and many smaller ones have occurred.

Success stories

The most successful and perhaps the only long-term crowdfunding example is the charity platform Imena (“Names”). In 2017, the platform managed to collect $165,000 for 12 projects. The funds also covered the full expenses for a team of six people including salaries. The team itself admits that they did not expect such a successful outcome.

Currently, the campaign to crowdfund the publication of translations of Sviatlana Alexievich’s five volumes into the Belarusian language has gathered five times more than required; $100,000 instead of the original target of $20,000.

Surprisingly enough, campaigns with a clear political flavour have also succeeded in raising funds. The BY_help campaign that started in March 2017 raised $55,000 to help Belarusians and their families who suffered as a result of the March public protests, the White Legion case, and other political activities.

The most recent #BNR100 campaign gathered $27,000 to organise Freedom Day celebrations – marking the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic. Traditionally one of the major annual actions by the opposition, this year the authorities allowed the holding of a peaceful Freedom Day celebration with a concert in the very centre of the capital. The event attracted up to 50,000 people.

Freedom Day advertising poster

Despite state-imposed restrictions, these obstacles do not make local fundraising completely impossible. Sviatlana Zinkievič, head of the Office for European Expertise and Communication, in a comment for Belarus Digest notes positive trends of local fundraising. Organisations that previously could not even consider engaging in local fundraising now implement successful projects. The range of issues and projects which cannot collect funds constantly decreases.

Crowdfunding platforms and competitions like “Social Weekend” present a fine opportunity not only for raising funds but also for increasing the visibility of such initiatives. They can also consult the CSOs very professionally so that both experienced and young organisations have a chance to succeed.

The numerous success stories prove that CSOs can operate in Belarus, at least partially, with the support of local donors. But to be fair, the long-term activity of any organisations so far looks impossible through local fundraising alone. While it became easier to crowdfund for a book, an event or campaign, an independent civic organisation or a media outlet still cannot survive without institutional support.




One Hundred Years of Belarus Independence Proclamation: Uniting the Nation or Dividing the Opposition?

On 1 March 2018, Minsk municipal authorities granted a permission to install a memorial plaque on the historical building, where on 25 March 1918 Belarusian independence was proclaimed. On the following day, Belarusians crowdfunded the project, promptly collecting 2500 in just 3 hours.

Out of those states that gained their independence after the fall of the Russian Empire, Belarus remains the only one that does not officially celebrate this date. In the modern Belarusian history, the Belarusian Democratic Republic (Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika or BNR)  anniversaries antagonised society – while the opposition made a specific point on public celebrations, the authorities usually marked 25 March with violent crackdowns.

This year, as the centennial of the Belarusian statehood approaches, authorities and opposition seem to agree on the importance of the date, in a stark contrast to the previous years.

What happened on 25 March 1918?

The BNR government in 1918. Source: bnr100.by

As Germany and Soviet Russia signed the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty without Belarusian participation, Belarusian national elites finally realised the need to take responsibility for their homeland. After the proclamation of the Belarusian Democratic Republic on 9 March 1918, the declaration of independence followed on 25 March 1918. 

In reality, the BNR lacked many formal attributes of a state and heavily depended on German toleration. Yet, more importantly, it created an important historical precedent. Ten months later, the Bolsheviks appropriated the idea of Belarusian state and (mis)used it for their own political ends, but the BNR established a continuous statehood tradition. It survived throughout the 20th century, serving as a basis for the creation of the independent Belarusian state in 1991. 

The BNR did not disappear with the arrival of the Bolsheviks and continued to exist within the Belarusian diaspora abroad. Its government – the BNR Rada  – derives its legitimacy from the democratically elected All-Belarusian Congress and is famous for being the oldest government in exile. The BNR Rada considers the current political regime in Belarus undemocratic and refuses to hand over its mandate.

Freedom Day in Lukashenka’s Belarus

Celebrations of 25 March, also known as Freedom Day, resumed in 1989, yet it did not become a public holiday. Instead, the authorities opted for 3 July as the official independence day, marking the date of the liberation of Minsk from the Nazis in 1944. This date does not bear connections to the re-establishment of the statehood or its independence whatsoever.

Under the current political regime, 25 March usually antagonises official authorities, ending in violent clashes and arrests. The Freedom Day represents the very opposite of the regime’s  Soviet-based sentiments. In 1996, it coincided with a political crisis, threatening the annexation of Belarus by Russia and bringing 30.000 people to the streets. In 2000, authorities used military equipment and riot police units against the peaceful demonstration.

Freedom Day 2017 in Minsk. Source: svaboda.org

In 2017, the same trend was still in place: the authorities brutally detained over 700 persons out of a few thousand, who dared to gather in the centre of Minsk for the demonstration. Mass protests over the infamous ‘social parasites‘ decree last spring fuelled the authorities’ repressive reaction. 

However, with the exception when Freedom Day celebrations were reinforced with similar political or social crises, the usual scenarios stabilised at two-three thousand participants. Often without a clear plan of action, opposition kept struggling to revive the Freedom Day, while the authorities effectively prevented it from becoming a unifying date.

The BNR centennial and the regime: the limits of passive toleration

By contrast, this year might offer something fresh, as the Minsk municipal authorities permitted a rally and a concert on 25 March in a downtown location, near the Opera Theatre. Moreover, they also promised that the unregistered national white-red-white flags and ‘Pahonia’ coat of arms could be used without restrictions.

Few other concessions include several BNR-themed exhibitions at major Minsk museums and marking BNR-related spots in the urban space. On 13 March, a memorial plaque was unveiled in Janka Kupala Park, memorialising the brothers Ivan and Anton Luckievič, the leading ideologists of the Belarusian national movement. Another plaque should appear on the building at Valadarskaha Str. 9, where the BNR proclaimed its independence.

In regard to the soft Belarusisation trends, the centennial of the BNR might present the regime with an opportunity to abandon the dominant Soviet version of Belarusian history. Yet, according to the political analyst Aliaksandr Klaskouski, Belarusian authorities face two major obstacles – giving up their Soviet-defined identities and a fear that public celebrations might turn unpredictable.

In this context, Belarusian authorities want to appear benevolent on the issue of the BNR centennial, yet distanced themselves from celebrations on the official level.

Divide and rule: the opposition and its dilemmas

Civil society and opposition took over the planning of the BNR anniversary, launching a crowdfunding initiative to fund the concert and coordinating volunteers for the information campaign. However, the authorised concert and small concessions from the regime immediately revealed that there is no common ground within their ranks as to the format of the Freedom Day.

The organisational committee split between those who prefer festive celebrations to the more traditional political protest. United Civic Party, movement For Freedom and Belarusian Popular Front along with civil society activists, including Pavel Bielavus and blogger Eduard Palčys, opted for the concert. They argue that the BNR centennial should become an occasion for a national holiday with the appropriate festivities.

Mikalaj Statkevič. Source: svaboda.org

Their adversaries, Mikalaj StatkievičViačaslau Siučyk, and Uladzimir Niakliaeu support a traditional demonstration through the streets of Minsk. Statkevič pointed out that festivities might discredit the authority of the opposition, achieved during the social protests last year.

“We face a number of social and political issues […] People always come out to these events with their problems and needs. A demonstration gives them an opportunity to express these, while the guarded concert does not,” commented the uncompromising Statkevič. 

Thus, the roads of the opposition activists might part on 25 March 2018, allowing the regime to keep the face with the concert and prosecuting the participants of the unauthorised march.

The opposition’s lack of unity reminds of the similar divisions that tormented national elites in 1918, when they debated independence of the BNR in the early hours of 25 March one hundred years ago.

The centennial of the BNR coincides with a period when Belarusian regime shows interest in a stronger national identity. It also does not mind to compromise with the opposition, albeit on specific terms. A sizable part of the opposition, in turn, appears eager to use the warmer attitude of the authorities.




Flying University courses, Charter97.org blocked, Absurdity of the Month – Belarus civil society digest

Ulej sums up results: 137 local crowdfunding campaigns collected over $280K. Imena calls for applications to fund social projects and organizations. Social Weekend competition is launched for the 11th time. The first Repair Café is held in Minsk.

New guides for CSOs: Belarusian practitioners share the experience of how to run social media and attract local resources. Liberal Club invites youth to participate in the “Belarusian Lego” essay competition.

BAJ: 101 journalists detained in 2017. Access to the opposition website Charter97.org blocked in Belarus. BPF Youth head expelled from the university. Electby campaign announces a contest for “Belarusian Absurdity of the Month”.

This and more in the fresh Belarus civil society digest.

Crowdfunding

Ulej sums up results. From its inception in 2015, a Belarus’ crowdfunding platform Ulej.by has been facilitating the successful implementation of 137 crowd campaigns. These are books, theatrical performances, designer things, social projects etc. The authors of the projects collected over $280K.

Imena calls for applications to fund social projects and organisations. The Imena platform collects money for projects thanks to resonant materials on the Imenamag.by website. This year, the Imena has a department for working with projects. Since its inception in 2016, the Imena has supported 25 projects and collected donations of over $230K.

Local and urban activism

Social Weekend launched for the 11th time. Any Belarusian is eligible to apply for the Social Weekend, a national contest of social projects and get all the necessary resources – money, knowledge, and social capital. Deadline for applications is 28 February. Since 2013, Social Weekend got over 2,000 unique ideas, 200 were supported from local sources.

The first Repair Café held in Minsk. On 21 January, in Minsk, Repair Café was opened for everybody who wanted to repair household devices, bicycles, clothing etc. for free. Similar events are a part of the international movement spread in 200 cities of different countries around the world. The objective is to reduce waste, to maintain repair skills and to strengthen social cohesion.

The first Repair Café in Minsk. Photo: greenbelarus.info

Award ceremony Zrabili! / Done! recognised the best community initiatives on Belarus. On 13 January, in Minsk, over 50 initiatives were awarded for the successful activities during 2017. The award was founded and given for the second year in a row by Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC), CityDog.by and 34mag.net under the joint initiative, which expands the visibility of grassroots activism in Belarus.

101 projects participate in the #Paskarenne contest. The #Pascarenne / Acceleration contest, initiated by a non-profit platform Talaka, includes ideas that “cause pride for the country in any field”: from social and urban to entrepreneurial and technological. Winners will be named in February, following the results of people’s and expert voting. The prize fund is $5K.

Case studies in community development. The SYMPA Centre and the NGO Assembly released a collection of case studies, which describe the grassroots activism in different Belarusian locations in 2016-2017. The manual contains the stories about the organisation of the courtyard’s festival, repair of roads, changes in street names, etc.

Non-formal education

Guide: How CSOs should run social mediaNew Ideas Centre releases a guide that explains how CSOs can operate effectively in social networks. The guide is available online and created under the Public Participation project, that unites 10 organisations working together to support civic activity in Belarus, expanding innovation, exchange of experiences and mutual learning.

Manual: How to raise funds at the local levelACT NGO presents a fundraising handbook for CSOs that describes the key local sources of funds, methods, and tools. The book also includes cases of CSO cooperation with business structures, legislation aspects, as well as practitioners’ recommendations.

Flying University invites to new courses. The University offers 8 open courses involving contemporary issues, associated with the rapid technological and innovative development. The Flying University is an initiative aimed at creating in Belarus the space and environment with free thinking; it is a movement towards a modern University in and for Belarus. Applications are accepted until 5 February.

Belarusian Lego essay competition. Liberal Club invites schoolchildren and students to participate in the 5th annual essay competition. The theme of this year is Globalisation vs Belarusisation. Thirty winners will receive an invitation to a three-day educational school. The papers should be sent by 28 February.

Media

Opposition website Charter97.org blocked in Belarus. The Ministry of Information explains its decision by the reason that the website had published information the dissemination of which is able to harm the national interests of Belarus. The Belarusian Association of Journalists protests against blocking access to social and political websites.

In 2017, the persecution of journalists increased (infographics). According to Belarusian Association of Journalists, 101 journalists were detained last year (to compare: 13 cases in 2016). The total sum of fines, imposed on journalists for cooperation with foreign mass media in 2017 is €24,235.

Belarus in Focus 2017 is accepting articles. The international competition for journalists writing about Belarus in international media is annually organised by Belarus in Focus Information Office in partnership with Press Club Belarus. This year the competition takes place for the 7th time. The deadline for applications is 15 March 2018.

Other

Картинки по запросу ганна смілевіч

Hanna Smilevich. Photo: racyja.com

BPF Youth head expelled from the university. Hanna Smilevich, 18, became the leader of the BPF Youth on 24 December 2017. She was a second-year student of the BSU Institute of Journalism. BPF Youth Council considers Smilevich’s expulsion is politically motivated since she had no problems with her studies before heading BPF Youth.

10th contest of projects of Meeting Place: Dialogue program is organised by Vzaimoponimanie NGO together with EVZ Foundation. The competition aims to support projects in the interests of former prisoners of concentration camps and ghettos, people involved in forced labour and other victims of Nazi persecutions, as well as other people born before 9 May 1945. Deadline is 28 February.

Absurd of the Month competition. The campaign in the national election observation Electby announces a competition to identify anything absurd in modern Belarusian reality. It can be any violations related to the current legislation or daily life, in a governmental entity or a public space. The massages should be sent by 10 February.

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.




Top 10 of Belarus civil society in 2016

On the eve of the winter holidays, the NGO 'Pact' usually takes a look at the most prominent events to affect Belarusian civil society over the past year.

Here we present our take on the top ten developments of 2016 (categories are in alphabetical order).

Our categories may vary from year to year as it is not our goal to track trends, but rather to highlight major events taking place in Belarus each year.

Civic start ups of the year: Press Club Belarus and Aleksievich’s intellectual club

In March 2016, Press Club Belarus officially opened in Minsk. The Press Club's goal is to organise numerous visible activities which serve as a professional platform for the exchange of ideas and opinions between journalists, politicians, experts, and opinion leaders.

Pact also whishes to acknowledge a civic initiative by the first Belarusian Nobel laureate: in December, Svetlana Alexievich launched her Intellectual Club in Minsk to 'to deeply discuss the important things'. 600 people registered to attend the first meeting but only 200 were admitted.

Grassroots of the year: The City Urban Show

The City has become the first reality show in Belarus to offer an attractive format for civic activism. It aims to motivate a wider audience to be more active in community life. The entire process, starting from training leaders and ending in the implementation of their ideas on the ground was recorded in 11 video episodes. Next year, the Centre for Cultural Management, which designed and implemented the project, will launch the 2nd season of The City.

Event(s) of the year: Minsk Dialogue Track-II platform

In 2016 Minsk Dialogue, a permanent Track-II (non-governmental) expert platform, organised a series of events to address the most challenging issues and foster international cooperation across dividing lines. Experts reviewed the Minsk agreements on the situation in Ukraine, Pan-European integration, post-Soviet protracted conflicts, 25 years without the USSR, and more. The events were attended by high-ranking officials, experts and diplomats such as Belarus’ MFA Head, the Minister of the Eurasian Economic Commission, the Head of EU Delegation to Belarus et al.

Local fundraising of the year: Imena magazine

Launched in April 2016, The Imena (or names) online magazine has become the first Belarusian public media platform entirely financed by readers, without state or business support. The magazine’s stories about people in need led to a wide public reaction and motivated many readers to donate. Collecting money through the Talaka.by platform, Imena set two crowdfunding records – it raised over $20K for its own activites and $34,6K for the Children's boarding.

Political event of the year: two opposition MPs in the parliament

For the first time in 12 years, two representatives of the opposition made it into the Belarusian Parliament: Hanna Kanapackaja of the United Civic party and Aliena Anisim of the Belarusian Language Society. They won seats in the 110-member House of Representatives following the elections in September. According to critics, Aliaksandr Lukashenka only permitted the appointment of two independent deputies because of pressure from the West.

State 'fundraising' of the year: fines for activists

According to the human rights centre Viasna’s website, in 2016 the Belarusian courts imposed 415 fines to activists and journalists, amounting to $148K: 3.5 times more than last year. Such a sharp increase in fines could be related to the Belarusian authorities fine-tuning their tactics. Instead of arrests, they are using financial persecution against participants of protest actions and independent journalists, thus avoiding a harsh reaction from the West.

Think tank of the year: BEROC

In 2016, the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC) topped the Belarus Think Tanks Rating. Organised by the Belarus Research Council (BRC), the Rating measures Belarusian think tanks according to their levels of institutional capacity, information outreach, and analytical and research activities. BEROC's high position is primarily due to their well-elaborated and extensive educational and research programme.

Trend of the year: intensification of contacts between state and civil society

In 2016, public events organised by CSOs were attended by top-level officials: the Belarusian Prime Minister opened the Belarusian Forum co-organised by BISS; the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration and First Deputy Minister of Economy attended the 4th Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF, etc. A number of inter-sectoral consultations and events were held on human right issues (the abolition of the death penalty, police monitoring, adoption of national plan). CSO representatives had personal meetings with the Heads of the MFA and Information Ministry.

Volunteer initiative of the year: environmental action Zrobіm!

On 9 April 2016, an environmental action to clean illegal dumps, Zrobim! (Let's Do It!), attracted a record number of people – around 22,700 volunteers from 43 Belarusian cities and villages removed dumps and cleaned recreational areas in cities, forests, and beaches. The action has been held in Belarus since 2012 and is organised by the Green Network, the Centre for Environmental Solutions, Interaction Fund, Minsk Cycling Society, and several government ministries.

And for something completely different of the year: the first ever Belarusian billionaire

The business assets of the 39-year-old Belarusian who founded the company Wargaming, Viktar Kisly, are estimated at $1.5 billion (by the Bloomberg Agency). The personal wealth of the billionaire is more than $1 billion. Wargaming, along with its signature product World of Tanks, is one of the most successful companies in the field of online games.

Pact Belarus Team




Grand media barometer, foreign investment forum, civil society trends in 2016 – digest of Belarusian analytics

BISS releases Grand Political Media Barometer and a fresh Foreign Policy Index. Belarusian economy continues to show a fragile stability, according to Belarus Security Blog. National Agency of Investment and Privatisation sums up the results of Belarus forum “Broadening the Horizons: Investment, Finance, Development”.

Viasna presents fresh monthly monitoring of the human rights situation in Belarus. Experts formulate eight key trends in Belarusian civil society in 2016. BAJ monitoring group presents final conclusions on the coverage of the Parliamentary election in the Belarusian media.

Joerg Forbrig: parliamentary elections were invisible, but not trivial. Artiom Shraibman analyses why Lukashenka allowed opposition to Parliament.

This and more in the new digest of Belarusian analytics.

Politics

Grand political media barometer: report on communication of Belarus’ independent political forces (2012-2016) – BISS presents a report for 49-month monitoring (starting April 2012) on the media-appearances of the Belarusian opposition political forces. According to the Barometer, there is a clear explosion of politics during the electoral campaigns and the presidential elections were characterised by the unprecedented growth of communication.

Recommendations on the creation of foreign retraining programme for civil servants. ​Organisation of foreign educational programmes would improve civil service and competitiveness of Belarusian economy

Authority pulls opposition in delicate game – Journalist Paŭliuk Bykoŭski believes that two oppositionists in the new parliament are an indirect signal of the situation in the ruling regime. He suggests that there are "doves" within the system that stand for cooperation with the West, with the expansion of freedom without any change in political realities. However, it is impossible to predict how long the "doves" are in favour.

Belarus Foreign Policy Index № 33 (July–August 2016) – BISS presents its regular issue of Belarus Foreign Policy Index, which explores Belarus’s foreign policy. In particular, in July and August, Belarus-Russia relations were developed in difficult conditions due to the emergency on NPP construction in Astraviec and difficult negotiations on gas and oil. The main topic in relations with the EU was parliamentary election campaign.

Economy

Belarus forum “Broadening the Horizons: Investment, Finance, Development” results – One of the recent Belarusian forum's organisers, the National Agency of Investment and Privatisation sums up the forum results. The forum is called as one of the most important events in the economic life of the country that allowed discussing strategies to attract foreign investments in Belarus. BISS independent think tank was among the organisers.

Moscow would not oppose. Will Minsk sign a new programme with the IMF? – Belarusian authorities started another round of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. One of the questions is how Russia would react to Belarus' cooperation with the IMF. According to BelaPAN, Russia's official position is that the Belarusian authorities should carry out the IMF recommendations.

Monitoring of the situation in the field of economic security of Belarus (August 2016) – In its monthly monitoring Belarus Security Blog notes that the Belarusian economy continues to show a fragile stability. The most serious risk to financial stability is the deterioration of the external sector. At the same time, a successful resolution of oil and gas conflict with Russia can be a significant factor in improving the foreign trade balance.

Civil society

Human rights situation in Belarus: September 2016 – According to Viasna's monthly monitoring, September was not marked by any significant changes of a systemic nature that could contribute to qualitative changes in the human rights situation. The key negative trend were new cases of arbitrary detention of political activists that had not been applied by the Belarusian authorities since August 2015.

Foreign investment: only loans so far. Foreign loans remain the main source of investment and are used to refinance current debt and thus only increase the total volume of debt rather than lead to reform and increase of economic efficiency

Civil society organisations in Belarus: eight trends of 2016 – During a discussion organised by ACT NGO on 26 September, the civil society experts name the key events and developments happened to Belarusian CSOs in 2016. Namely, such trends appeared visible as a cautious warming in relations between the state and civil society, increased activity of unaffiliated grassroots, crowdfunding boom, strengthening gender mainstreaming, etc.

What happens to Minsk from the point of Urban Studies? – Urbanist Dzmitry Bibikaŭ discusses new areas for evening entertainment that have emerged in Minsk and a process of gentrification, which is the core of the changes of deteriorated urban neighborhoods. In particular, the expert is sure that Minsk has a huge capacity in gentrification, and the future is for industrial zones.

Belaruspolicy

Recommendations on the creation of foreign retraining programme for civil servants. Improving the competitiveness of Belarusian economy is impossible without creation of professional civil service. Civil servants in national and local bodies should have the ability to generate and implement non-standard management tasks, have a comprehensive view of the modern public administration in the world, global economy and international cooperation organisations. An essential component of this new approach can be a more active use of foreign educational programmes. This paper provides recommendations on the organisation of such a programme in Belarus.

Foreign investment: only loans so far. Trends in 2015 did were similar to previous years. Low demand for state-owned assets, as well as lack of flexibility and interest in speeding up the privatisation process remains the main factor of zero dynamics of sales of state assets. Foreign loans are the main source of investment and are used to refinance current debt and thus only increase the total volume of debt rather than lead to reform and increase of economic efficiency.

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.




Environmentalists v Church, Intellectual Club, Internet Control – Civil Society Digest

Environmentalists clash with the Catholic Church over a city park. Urban Myths are looking for funding for new murals. Crowdfuding helps to finance civil society projects. Belarusian reporter recovers from KGB​ moral damages for unlawful detention.

Amendments to Internet control prepared secretly from the public. Nobel prize winner Svetlana Aleksievich will open an intellectual club in Minsk. What do Belarusians Think public discussion on 2 June will dissect pension reform. This and more in the new edition of Civil Society Digest.

Urban activism

Sixth episode of The City reality show continues to acquaint with urban activists and educational program for them. In this week episode, the fellows painted the fence and removed the trash in a park in the rhythm of capoeira. Organised by the Centre for Cultural Management, The City weekly reports on 20 grassroots activists who fight for the prize money to implement social projects on the ground.

And park, and church. How it's possible to agree. Andrej Jahoraŭ, the Centre for European Transformation, parses a local conflict over the construction of the church, followed by the cutting of trees in the Minsk park Katoŭka. The expert believes that the issue isn’t in ecology or violations of the rights of believers, but in decision-making at the local level. The conflict is caused by the practice adopted in Belarus when the society is actually excluded from the decision-making processes.

Urban Myths festival opens a new season. The project brings prominent street artists to Belarus to create a series of murals based on local content. Now in Minsk, the Spain artist Deih is trying to combine his traditional theme of Universe with the Belarusian mythology. In 2015, street art community Signal organised the first Urban Myths festival in Minsk with two graffiti rated within the top 10 of the month in the world.

Crowdfunding

 

Crowdfunding platforms report their achievementsTalaka.by informs that for the recent 12 months 203 new projects have been posted on the platform; the fastest Belarus' crowdfunding campaign was completed for 8 hours – raising money for a known athlete to attend competitions abroad. Fro the recent month MaeSens.by has collected Br365 mil (around $18,6K) for assisting creative, social and charity projects.

Book about Piotr Martsev collects money through crowdfunding. Kyky.org chief editor Sasha Romanova publishes a provocative book of memoirs about Piotr Martsev, businessman and founder of the Belarusian independent newspapers BDG and Imya. A crowdfunding platform Ulej.by hosts a campaign to raise money on the printing of the book. For the first two days, the campaign has collected more than 62 million rubles (around $3,1K) – 41% of the required amount.

Intellectual life

Nobel laureate Svetlana Aleksievich to open intellectual club in Minsk. Aleksievich informed on her plans during the master class organised by Press Club Belarus. Starting from September, the Club's meetings will be held in the Minsk TUT.BY gallery, with the participation of the world famous intellectuals. The Club will have its website to provide information on the lectures and invited guests.

Presence Code anthology. On May 18, Flying University and the Belarus Collegium presented an Anthology of 2000-2015 Belarusian thinking titled Presence Code. The anthology allows seeing the intellectual and cultural contribution made in 2000-2015 and contains the texts of different genres and styles – manifestos, metaphysical reasoning, criticism and others to understand Belarus.

Interaction between state and civil society 

Reporter gets moral damage compensation for unlawful imprisonment in KGB. In 2012, a reporter Anton Surapin spent a month in the KGB detention centre for allegedly aiding the teddy bear airdrop team. Now, with the help of BAJ lawyers, Surapin won 8 million rubles (around $400) for the moral damage. This is the first precedent in years when a person, who had been recognised a political prisoner, succeeded in his claim for compensation.

Amendments to Internet control prepared secretly from the public. On May 16, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) got an answer from the Ministry of Information on its request to reveal details on drafting a new law to control the Internet. The Minister answered that BAJ’s request “had been taken into account” without any other clarifications.

Activist held in ‘cycling case’ faces formal charges. Dzmitry Palijenka, an activist detained after the brutal dispersal of the Critical Mass cycling event on April 29, has been officially charged with using violence against a police officer (Article 364 of the Criminal Code). On May 12, three more cyclist activists were fined of Br840,000 (around $45). Environmental CSOs have launched a campaign and flashmobs to support participants of the Critical Mass.

Other

What Belarusians think on pension reform. The topic of the pension reform’s implications will be discussed on June 2, in the Minsk Gallery TUT.BY with online broadcasting. A BEROC expert will present economic impacts on the pension system because of the ageing of the population. A series of live discussions What Do Belarusians Think is organised by OEEC in partnership with the Belarusian Research Council, Pact and supported by USAID.

Infographics on European Cafe's results. The project European Cafe – Open Space of Europe has summed up the results of a customs survey to get feedback on its activity. Since 2011, the project aimed at integration of the Belarusian society into the European space, has organised 60 lectures with experts from 16 countries, with over 3,000 people attended. 96% of respondents answer that they have a positive impression of the project. The infographics was made with the methodological support of Pact.

Emigre politician makes trip to Belarus. Opposition Belarusian politician Siarhiej Navumčyk arrived in Minsk on May 24 on his first visit to Belarus in 20 years. The 55-year-old politician works in Prague for the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In September 2015, opposition politicians Alieś Michalievič and Viačaslaŭ Siŭčyk returned to Belarus after years of self-imposed exile.




Crowdfunding in Belarus: Civil Society in the Making

Crowdfunding in Belarus experienced a spectacular surge in 2015, with the trend continuing in 2016.

Leading Belarusian crowdfunding platforms Talakosht, MaeSens, and Ulej became increasingly effective in supporting cultural and social projects, charities, and socially responsible businesses.

One of the most recent examples is a project at Talaka.by, featuring a 1:10 scale reconstruction of the castle of Krewa. The initiators want to popularise Belarusian history and attract more tourists to north-western Belarus.

These initiatives are important not only because they encourage grassroots civil activism, but also because they allow more fundraising opportunities. The government of Belarus still severely restricts obtaining funding from abroad. However, crowdfunding has a limited potential as a major source of funding due to the small amounts of donations.

Old traditions of the community: Belarusian talaka

Talaka in Belarusian refers to an ancient folk tradition of the community helping individuals in need: for instance, in the construction of a house or helping out with the harvest. Its modern incarnation is Talaka.by, a web-based non-profit organisation. It specialises in networking and connecting people with creative ideas.

The crowdfunding spin off of Talaka.by is Talakosht. One of the essential conditions for projects here is their social importance. First, people declare their readiness to support the campaign. At the next stage, these “promises” materialise into donations. According to Talaka.by, around 80 per cent of “promised” donations turn into real money. The funding scheme is flexible, working either through “all-or-nothing” or “keep it all” models.

Currently, Talaka hosts over 250 active projects, primarily in the educational, cultural, and social spheres. Successfully implemented ideas range from a festival of street graffiti art, free bike rentals in Minsk, to Belarusian dubbing of the cartoon Peppa Pig. The latter was very popular, collecting over $3,000 and exceeding the originally planned amount by 63 per cent.

On 12 April, Talaka users pledged financial support to Vital Hurkou's trip to the Muaythai World Championship, scheduled for May 2016 in Sweden. The Belarusian Ministry of Sport refused to finance Hurkou's trip, even though he is a leading national and world athlete in Muaythai. Officials appeared to be unhappy about his involvement in the rock band Brutto, known for its government-critical positions.

 

Beehive as a model of community involvement

Recent newcomer on the Belarusian crowdfunding scene with a more pro-business orientation, Ulej (beehive), launched in spring 2015. In contrast to Talakosht, Ulej is a for-profit organisation, collecting a 12 per cent commission on successful projects. It operates according to the “all-or-nothing” model of the world leading crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Statistically, around 40 per cent of all projects at Ulej succeed in collecting the required funds.

Ulej supports a wide range of initiatives, with a focus on their originality and benefits to the public. For beginners, the platform offers crowdfunding training resources. Authors can promote their projects for free, receiving support and feedback from the platform.

Currently, the most popular projects at Ulej are charities, literature projects, and urban initiatives. Successfully implemented ideas include translations of fairytales for iPhones and iPads, publications of children's books, a map of Belarusian cuisine, and a toy house for the orphanage. Within a year of its establishment Ulej had collected over $71,000. An average donation is about $23.

Examples of crowdfunding initiatives at Ulej also demonstrate a new approach to charities. Emphasis on creative and unconventional ideas allows one to highlight existing problems in a new way and to receive more positive responses, compared to traditional appeals to compassion and call of duty. However, beyond charities, crowdfunding remains an unreliable source of funding.

Alternative ways of making sense of charities

MaeSens (in English:“It makes sense”) started in October 2011 in Minsk. It operates on a slightly different principle to Talakosht and Ulej, defining its mission as a unique combination of social networking with electronic auctions.

MaeSens attracts funding for social projects by offering so-called “meeting auctions.” Users can place bids for an advertised meeting with a project author or a celebrity. The highest bidder receives the rights to the meeting. All proceeds from the auctions go towards supporting a selected cause or a charity.

Currently, more than 85,000 people have actively used the platform, collecting over $300,000 for orphanages, social shelters, charity organisations, and sick children. These causes have attracted Belarusian and foreign celebrities, including the athlete Aliaksandra Herasimenia, former presidential candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich, founder of Tut.by Jury Zisser, as well as music stars Robby Williams and Three Days Grace.

In June 2013, MaeSens launched the Social Weekend contest. It aims to support development of the non-profit organisations and youth initiatives active in social and cultural spheres. Another goal is the promotion of social entrepreneurship and social investment. So far, over 750 projects have participated in the contest, resulting in $75,000 worth of investments.

In this way, crowdfunding opens up new routes not only for civil society and charities, but also for businesses. However, one concern is possible attempts by the state to control grassroots initiatives. Belarusian legislation has not yet developed extensive regulations for crowdfunding activities, which so far have been treated as donations, subject to the standard 13 per cent income tax. But this might change quickly, especially in light of recent trends of searching for quick revenues for the budget.

Currently, Belarusian crowdfunding platforms are still a relatively new phenomenon. They are effective tools to test ideas and identify projects that ordinary Belarusians deem worthy of supporting. However, the impact of crowdfunding remains limited, as it has not yet reached the capacity to support large-scale projects.

From the economic point of view, crowdfunding promotes social entrepreneurship and micro investment, leading to the democratisation of the economy. Yet the main question here is whether the state will choose interference or foresight. At the end of the day, crowdfunding has the long-term potential to support independent competitive projects and to create more jobs for the economy.




Swamp Campaign Victory, Alexievich in the Palace of Republic, Who Hates Whom – Civil Society Digest

Fastest crowdfunding campaign ever has collected money for an athlete and rock band singer Vitaĺ Hurkoŭ. Online registration on the 6th International Congress of Belarusian Studies is now open.

Svetlana Alexievich held its first public presentation in the very heart of Minsk – the Palace of Republic. A public campaign In Defense of Belarusian Swamps achieved the adoption of the Strategy of conservation and sustainable use of peatlands.

IDEAby published a grid based on relations between Belarusian political parties and movements' leadership. This and more in the new edition of Civil Society Digest.

Crowdfunding

Fastest crowdfunding campaign has collected money for an athlete. For 7 hours a crowdfunding platform Talakosht collected Br68.2 mils ($3,4K) for Vitaĺ Hurkoŭ to participate in the Muaythai World Championship in Sweden. Vitaĺ Hurkoŭ is a world champion and vocalist of BRUTTO band banned for performances in Belarus. After his dismissal from the Ministry of Vitaĺ Hurkoŭ looked for money via crowdfunding; his campaign was supported by 170 people, who donated from $2,5 to $250.

Talaka.by celebrates one year of its crowdfunding activity. During the year, 19 out of 48 crowdfunding campaigns hosted at Talakosht (Talaka.by crowdfunding resource), finished successfully. More than 200 people consistently support the new campaigns at the platform. The total amount of funds raised is around Br600 million (around $30,000).

Education and science

To the 10th anniversary of the Kalinoŭski programme, opened since 2006 for repressed Belarusian students and funded by the Polish government, Svaboda.org has collected 10 alumni success stories. Andrej Dyńko, Naša Niva editor, reviewed the stories and revealed that 9 of the 11 best graduates remained in Poland, two of them opened the hookah. Dyńko concludes that now when there are no cases of expulsion from the Belarusian universities the program brings damage since the most talented youth move from Belarus.

Online registration on the 6th International Congress of Belarusian Studies is open from 1 April. The 6th Congress will take place on October 7-9, in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Congress was initiated as an annual meeting of Belarusian and foreign scholars, experts, analysts and representatives of civil society and government institutions, which are involved in studying Belarus. Application deadline is 20 May.

Green initiatives

Swamp campaign won: the resolution on draining marshes replaced by strategy for their conservation. A public campaign In Defense of Belarusian Swamps started three years ago at the initiative of several people and has grown to the Bagna eco-CSO. The campaign could cancel the Council of Ministers' Resolution on peat extraction and achieved the adoption of the Strategy of conservation and sustainable use of peatlands. The organisers share their experience of successful implementation.

Zrobіm! action attended by over 22 thousand people. On April 9, the global action of cleaning illegal dumps Let's Do It! (Zrobim! in Belarusian) gathered about 22,700 volunteers from 43 cities and villages of Belarus (1,500 volunteers last year). Participants collected 560,000 litres of waste, thus removing more than 500 contaminated sites. The action was coordinated by Green Network, Centre for Environmental Solutions, Interaction Fund, Minsk Cycling Society and government ministries.

New educational program "City: Core, Community, Image of Action"is implemented by the Flying University in partnership with Green Network and Urban Tactics almanac. The course focuses on the modern approaches to the development of Belarusian cities and consists of three phases: intensive education, research and a summing-up workshop. Researchers and activists of environmental and urban movements are invited to participate. Deadline for applications is April 15.

Interaction between state and civil society

Svetlana Alexievich's presentation took place in the Palace of Republic. On April 14, a presentation of the Radio Svaboda's book Alexievich on Svaboda took place in the very heart of Minsk – the Palace of Republic. This was the first public presentation of Svetlana Alexievich in Belarus after receiving the Nobel Prize.

One-fifth of appeals at the Comfortable City resolved positively. For five months of its activity the website Comfortable City (petitions.by) posted 137 petitions, received 58 responses from government bodies, and 26 issues were decided in favour of citizens. Two-thirds of appeals are linked to the community level. Appeals submitted via the website are legally valid and require a mandatory reaction of related officials.

Freedom House has raised the rating of democracy in Belarus. In its annual report Nations in Transit 2016 Freedom House improves the Belarus' overall rating of the level of democracy, for the first time in six years. The growth is recorded only on two of the seven parameters – electoral process and civil society.

29 CSOs submit a group proposal for the changes in the rules of foreign aid receiving. The initiative to develop a consolidated position is initiated by Centre for Legal Transformation Lawtrend and the Assembly of NGOs. The program maximum is to cancel a permit procedure for receiving foreign grants and go to the notification principle, or at least to determine the minimum amount of aid, which does not require the state registration.

Other

Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities presents an annual monitoring of citizens' appeals. The total number of requests increased by 40% comparing to 2014. Geographical distribution is almost equal 49% (Minsk) and 51% (regions). The major part of requests is still on social protection issues – 39%. Increasing the number of appeals can be linked to the signing by Belarus of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, which took place in autumn 2015.

Play "Seven" in Belarus. On April 4, in the framework of the UNFPA information campaign, the National Academic Janka Kupala Theatre hosted a play "Seven" aimed to draw public attention to the problem of domestic violence. The play is a monologue of seven women from different cultures, who have overcome major obstacles on the path to justice, freedom, and equality. In each country, the roles are performed by famous women and men.

IDEAby map of the opposition. IDEAby published a grid of opposition relations, jokingly called ‘Who Hates Whom’. The grid is based on relations between Belarusian political parties and movements' leadership. It is noticeable that the relations within the opposition has changed for the year.

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.




Social Entrepreneurs In Belarus In Need Of Education

A guest post from Masha Cheriakova, a social entrepreneur and writer of Heta Belarus dzietka. She has made a major life decision a little more than 3 years ago to develop social entrepreneurship in Belarus. This led her to a purpose-driven life. Now she is a social entrepreneur.

After having worked for the past 3 years with Belarusian social entrepreneurs, I continue my mission to develop social entrepreneurship in Belarus. For the coming 3 years I will be working together with three NGO’s in setting up an acceleration program for 170 aspiring social entrepreneurs.

Together with Olga Kapachenia, I have conducted research on social entrepreneurship in Belarus. Covering online findings about the ecosystem of entrepreneurs in general and offline research in the form of interviews of 15 social entrepreneurs, 20 NGO’s and experts on this field, I have come to know about the challenges and needs of social entrepreneurs in Belarus.

Block 1: Belarusian mentality towards entrepreneurs

All surveyed social entrepreneurs have indicated that the biggest barrier towards developing their social business is that Belarusian people tend to think in problems rather than in solutions. One social entrepreneur described it as the following, “most Belarusians tend to think that they don’t have a power or a say in something. They think that the world will change by itself or by the government.” Another social entrepreneur described it as a psychological block towards change. He said “we need a mental shift that will make people responsible for things that don’t work, instead of relying on the government that does not do enough.”

Another problem identified, is that Belarusians have a big problem selling things or how they view selling items as a form begging. Even if they sell a good product, they still think that they are asking for money.

Block 2: Fear of misunderstanding and paperwork

The biggest stumbling block for social entrepreneurs in Belarus is the trouble of explaining and convincing their family, friends and others that social entrepreneurs is a business with a social mission that reinvests profits back into the organisation.

The second barrier relates to the amount of paperwork and red tape. Many are reluctant to start any enterprise in Belarus because of the big risk of being punished for a minor mistake. “You feel like you are being hunted” is what a social entrepreneur said during the interview. Access to licenses and the required certificates is a major burden for many of the social entrepreneurs interviewed who want to sell a product that is not a souvenir.

Social entrepreneurs indicated a need for entrepreneurial skills

Surprisingly these blocks did not relate to the biggest need of social entrepreneurs. Education and networking possibilities is what social entrepreneurs need most. “Writing a business plan, marketing strategy and most importantly an extensive course in selling, is what we need to develop a social enterprise. With the rest we can deal ourselves” an interviewee answered. Meeting like-minded people was also high on the need’s list. One social entrepreneur explained that interacting with other entrepreneurs, like Andrew Defrancesco, would encourage and motivate him to keep going in times when all seemed pointless.

What’s next?

Creating a social entrepreneurial culture will take time, especially in a country like Belarus, where entrepreneurial aspirations are not well understood or necessarily respected. The first step is to recognize what drives social entrepreneurs and identify the resources they need to succeed. From the voices of the social entrepreneurs we have learned that education is the biggest requirement to make their business successful.

Before looking into the direction of the government or other stakeholders to support social entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurs should prove themselves as an interesting and potential business model for job creation and social and economic growth. Development of an effective education program would be the first step to create powerful and successful examples.

Start with education on (social) entrepreneurship, some recommendations

Based on our findings, our study proposes 16 recommendations to develop social entrepreneurship further. I would like to share the most important recommendations that focus on the biggest need of social entrepreneurs in Belarus: Education.

1. Schools should be able to teach their students about (social) entrepreneurship and help build an entrepreneurial culture. This is mainly a governmental level of change that involves the Ministry of Education to collaborate with educational entrepreneurial organisations to jointly promote curricula that includes entrepreneurship. Educators can creatively reinforce these lessons by, for instance, creating competitions in which students present business plans to a panel of experts, who perhaps are successful entrepreneurs. . At the high school level it is equally important to educate the teachers on (social) entrepreneurship.

2. At the university level, the goal is more specific: Provide more students with the desire, skills and knowledge to start a company. To this end, more universities should establish major and minor degrees in entrepreneurship that cover topics such as business planning, problem solving, project management, risk management, finance and accounting. This coursework might include small, specialised seminars in which students work closely with a professor to create a business plan that is presented to investors or VC firms at the end of the term for possible financing.

Even students who are not seeking a major or minor in entrepreneurship could one day benefit from these courses. With this in mind, universities might consider altering the requirements for some existing degrees (e.g. business and engineering) to include a few entrepreneurship-related courses (the same way an ethics course is required of business graduates). Outside of the classroom, universities could support entrepreneurship clubs in which professors, business managers or established entrepreneurs present insights and training.

3. The media could take a more proactive role by regularly covering (social) entrepreneurial issues and seeking out these success stories. By interviewing entrepreneurs and asking for their experiences and barriers, they will unravel the truth from the myths concerning entrepreneurship and present that to the public. Regarding specifically social entrepreneurship promotion, journalists could be offered a training on what social entrepreneurship is and why it is important to cover the subject in the media. Especially reporting on success stories could benefit the media (as they have a nice topic to uncover) as well as the image of social entrepreneurship.

4. Give guidance to the existing promoters of social entrepreneurship. We have identified a handful of initiatives that have made it their core mission to promote social entrepreneurship in Minsk, such as Social Weekend and Talaka. These NGO’s, private initiatives and youth platforms are setting up training programmes, lectures and gatherings for social entrepreneurs.

However, many of them face barriers, partially because they are not sure about how to promote such an ambiguous term or in some cases they are not aware of what social entrepreneurship actually means and mix it up with NGO’s or a social projects or even CSR. Therefore, it would be good to give these promoters guidelines and definitions for social enterprises. This could be done via a website, which will focus on social entrepreneurship. Or possibly educate a pool of experts/trainers that could be invited to promote social entrepreneurship in different lectures and programmes.

5. Measure the impact social entrepreneurs make. None of the social entrepreneurs surveyed mentioned that they were measuring the impact they were making. The value generated by social enterprises will typically be measured in terms of the achievement of their social, cultural or environmental mission, as well as their financial sustainability.

Measuring, for example, young people that gained new skills, jobs being created, pollution diminished, whatever the aim of the social entrepreneurs, it is crucial to show the world that this is not business as usual. Moreover impact figures can also attract investors and partners. Social entrepreneurs should be trained on what kind of tools to use to measure the impact and how to promote these through various channels.

6. Seek finance through Crowdfunding. Crowdfunding involves raising capital, usually in small amounts, from a large number of people. In the Internet Era, this is predominantly happening online through a variety of crowdfunding platforms – each with their own approach and community. In Belarus only three crowdfunding platform exist today: Ulej.by, Maesens.by and Talaka.by.

While Crowdfunding platforms are a very new and not yet a popular way of raising money, we recommend social entrepreneurs to seriously consider this option. Crowdfunding also allows the building of a community of supporters, as well as getting exposure to the associated press and media ultimately spreading the word about the product and mission that social entrepreneurs try to sell.

7. Setting up a social entrepreneurship service centre or a social entrepreneurial incubator. Within this incubator social entrepreneurs can engage with NGO’s to create conferences, forums and programmes to share ideas and experiences, and facilitate networking. For instance, they could set up mentoring programmes so aspiring social entrepreneurs could benefit from real-life business experience and insights.

This could become the place where social entrepreneurs can meet experienced counterparts, discuss their ideas and get feedback and support on developing their business plans. Incubator acceleration programmes can help develop, identify and train social entrepreneurs with the highest potential, then give them a leg-up by providing human resources support, capabilities development, financing and professional services.

Masha Cheriakova

Masha is a social entrepreneur and writer of Heta Belarus dzietka




#DanceForReforms, Jails Monitoring, Websites Warned – Belarus Civil Society Digest

StudWatch initiative launches a #DanceForReforms flashmob. Viasna publishes a report on monitoring detention facilities in Belarus. 106 new NGOs were registered in 2015. Three Belarusian crowdfunding platforms collect nearly $140K of local funds in 2015. Belarus in Focus announces winners of its annual international journalism competition. Lawtrend presents infographics of 48 government websites.

Ministry of Interior confirms "no detention, fines later” as new tactic on protest rallies. Two independent websites receive warnings from the Information Ministry. Belarusian Christian Democracy Party denied registration for the sixth time. Since the presidential elections fines for civic activists and journalists grow, but arrests drop to zero.

Civil society initiatives

StudWatch launches a flashmob #danceForReforms. StudWatch initiative is a number of student CSOs that united to jointly uphold the quality of higher education and achieve true student self-government. The initiative calls on students who are dissatisfied with the status quo in Belarusian higher education, to take part in the flashmob – to dance on the background of the university, record a video and post it in social networks with the hashtag #danceForReforms.

Mova Nanova announces a new flash mob. On the eve of Mother Language Day, people confess, why they do not speak Belarusian, creating posters with their photos. Among the advanced reasons are fear of making mistakes, lack of Belarusian-language environment, laziness. Mova Nanova/Language Anew is free courses of Belarusian language held in 10 cities over the country.​

Reports and statistics

Viasna publishes report on monitoring places of detention in Belarus. The Human Rights Center Viasna has analyzed the situation in places of detention in Belarus and prepared a report on the results of monitoring in 2015. The report states that the situation in places of detention did not considerably change last year and describes cases of violating human rights, using or encouraging cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Statistics on the registration of NGOs. In 2015, 106 new NGOs were registered in Belarus, which increased the number of registered organizations by 2.7% compared to 2014. Thus, now in Belarus there are 2,665 registered NGOs, 34 unions (associations) of NGOs, 164 foundations, and 7 republican state-public associations.

More than 3 billion rubles collected at Belarusian crowdfunding platforms in 2015. They are MaeSens.by, Ulej.by and Talaka.by. The total amount is around $140K (on the recent exchange rate). According to Ulej.by, the average donation is $23-25. People respond more actively on social projects like support to children, disabled, inclusive education systems, and animals.

"Executive Authority Online" infographics. Lawtrend presents the results of a recent study of 48 official websites in a format of interactive infographics. The infographics reflects changes of the official websites since 2013, when for the first time Lawtrend conducted monitoring of the official resources of national executive authorities (general rating, accessibility for the blind, the changes for two years, etc.).

Fines grow, arrests not applied. According to the Human Rights Centre Viasna andBAJ, since the presidential elections to present (October 2015-February 2016), about 90 administrative cases were initiated against civic activists and journalists. More than a half of cases ended up with fines for a total amount of Br320 million (around $17K); no administrative arrests followed. To compare with the same period a year ago (October 2014-February2015) – 70 administrative cases, Br120 million (around $8K) of fines and 151 days of administrative arrests. Also, then six political prisoners remained behind bars.

Other events

Tell the Truth holds fifth founding congress. On February 21, the civil campaign Tell the Truth! held the fifth founding congress to apply for registration of the association. It was attended by 70 delegates from all regions of the country. Tell the Truth! has been trying to get an official registration since 2011, to no avail. On February 25, the campaign celebrates its sixth anniversary.

Belarus in Focus announces winners of the fifth edition of its annual international journalism competition for authors writing about Belarus. This year, the competition received 71 articles by 59 authors from 16 countries. The jury has decided to assign 4 prizes to professional journalists and 1 prize to the beginner. The winners will be awarded at the award-giving ceremony in Minsk in the end of April.

Interaction between state and civil society

Entrepreneurs’ protests continue. On February 28, several hundred of private entrepreneurs gathered in Minsk October Square, trying to make the government abolish decree #222. No one was detained. Anatoli Shumchanka, the leader of the Perspektyva, and Mikalai Statkevich, ex-political prisoner announce an Entrepreneurs Marchunder the same slogans for March 14.

Interior minister explains why police go easy on opposition rallies. Recently, the police stopped dispersing mass rallies and detaining their participants – now they draw protocols and impose fines. Thus, the Belarusian police found a new suitable algorithm for responding to opposition rallies, which satisfied both the authorities and the West. The monthly Human Rights Monitoring for February confirms that all unauthorized peaceful assemblies within a month passed without the intervention of law enforcement authorities.

Two websites warned by the Information Ministry. Two independent websites, of Nasha Niva newspaper nn.by and Ezhednevnik ej.by received written warnings from the Ministry of Information. The chairperson of BAJ Andrei Bastunets underlines that a warning is not a preventive measure, but a sanction – two warnings can result in a closure of the mass media.

Belarusian Christian Democracy Party failed to register for the sixth time. The Ministry of Justice has found ‘rude violations of the legislation of Belarus’ in the statutes. The last constituent assembly of the BCD was held in December 2015.

BAJ leader takes part in Editors’ Club. The program Editors’ Club is broadcast on the Belarusian State Television Company and gathers for a discussion chief editors of state-run editions. After the appeal of key independent media, the Club invited Andrei Bastunets, head of Belarusian Association of Journalists, to the program on February 25.

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.




Top 10 Belarus Civil Society in 2015

In anticipation of the New Year, Belarus Digest publishes Pact's overview of some of the most notable Belarus’ civil society developments in 2015.

For the fourth straight year, Pact presents its version of the top 10 civic initiatives in order to acknowledge individuals and groups whose enthusiasm, dedication, and communication contributed to positive change in Belarus.

The top 10 list below represents only a portion of developments in Belarus civic space, which has become more vibrant and diverse over the years.

Event of the Year: Open-air Concerts at the Town Hall

For the third consecutive year, Fond of Ideas organized open-air free music concerts in the heart of Minsk on the Freedom Square. This summer, three Saturday jazz evenings (with participation of European stars) and four classical music concerts attracted a record high of more than 70,000 people.

The events were funded by local business companies according to the concept of social corporate responsibility and aimed “to change urban space, make Minsk brighter and louder” and closer to European standards with wider civic space.

Advocacy of the Year: Entrepreneurs

This year, vendors continued to advocate for a workable regulatory environment for small businesses, which came under threat following the Presidential Decree #222, which introduced a complicated procedure of certification of light industry products in accordance with the Customs Union rules.

Due to their visibility and consistency achieved through a number of massive events (at least four public forums, the most abundant of which gathered 1,200 participants in February) and protests (in October nearly 500 entrepreneurs went on strike in Polotsk), the entrepreneurs managed to freeze new regulations for one and half years.

Perspektiva, a small vendors association headed by Anatoly Shumchanka, articulates the voice of 120,000 individual entrepreneurs and 140,000 hired employees. At the recent forum, Perspektiva proposed an anti-crisis plan to authorities in order to postpone the Decree for another 6 months and create an inter-sectoral working group to resolve the situation.

Authorities, including president Lukashenka, reacted to the entrepreneurs’ situation (in March Lukashenka met with entrepreneurs in one of the Minsk malls), however it looks like officials will push for the implementation of new regulations as they believe that the abolition of the Decree will cause negative consequences for the economy.

Civil Society Theme of the Year: Community Development

This year, several programmes gave a new impetus to the adoption of local community (and particularly urban) development topics and promotion of community activism. Superheroes School trained 42 activists who implemented a number of visible improvement projects in Minsk communities. After piloting the topic last year, the 2015 Leadership in Local Communities program recruited 30 rural and urban activists for a community development-learning course.

The first summer reality-competition of urban projects #RazamMіnsk received 300 applications and rolled out 12 projects implemented without donor funding. The General Plan For Minskers! campaign was highly visible, fostering public discussion of the draft plan for Minsk development, as well as the Minsk Urban Platform urban-oriented projects and events.

Moreover, 87 out of 722 initiative applicants are lined up for funding under the UNDP/EU joint Support to Local Development project; 12 out of 60 community proposals were selected for their economic empowerment by New Eurasia.

Breakthrough of the Year: Bologna Process

In May 2015, Belarus joined the Bologna process. The accession to the Bologna process has the potential to affect nearly 400,000 university students in Belarus every year. In 2012, Belarus’ accession to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was blocked due to the alternative report of the Public Bologna Committee of Belarusian civil society representatives that referred to numerous violations of academic freedom, particularly students and teachers who had been expelled/fired because of their political opinions.

This year the Bologna Committee achieved the mandatory condition for Belarus to implement the roadmap for higher education reform in Belarus in accordance with the values, principles and goals of the EHEA. While Pact has chosen the Bologna accession as its Breakthrough of the Year nominee, we would like to give due regard to another important development this year: Belarus’ accession to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which after 8 years of efforts may positively affect over 500,000 disabled Belarusians.

Policy Outreach of the Year: Kastryčnicki Economic Forum (KEF)

In November, Minsk hosted the largest economic conference in Belarus in a decade – the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum (KEF), organized by the independent think tanks IPM Research Centre, CASE Belarus, and BEROC. The event gathered over 300 high ranking professionals for an open dialogue on economic reforms, reaching out to over 2,5 million Belarusians through conference-related publications.

First Deputy Economy Minister of Belarus Alexander Zaborovsky presented the road map of reforms and, while President Lukashenka publicly reacted with criticism and reluctance, the public debate and demand is out there thanks to KEF. Thus, BISS’ surveys demonstrate that the Belarusians, including entrepreneurs and state servants believe in the urgency of economic reforms.

Political Event of the Year: Release of Political Prisoners

On August 22nd, six political prisoners were suddenly released in Belarus: Mikalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Statkevich, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsiom Prakapenka and Yury Rubtsou. Aliaksandr Lukashenka pardoned them in accordance with the "principles of humanity," in an attempt to normalise relations with the West.

Since that time, police have been applying ‘soft practices,’ such as avoiding new politically motivated cases and arrests of organizers and participants of unauthorized protests. However, on December 7th, Belarusian human rights defenders recognize a founder of Platforma NGO, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, as a new political prisoner.

Fundraiser of the Year: Crowdfunding Platforms

Three crowdfunding platforms that attract people’s funding for non-profit ideas emerged in 2015 in Belarus – Talakosht by Talaka.by platform and Ulej/Beehive by Belgasprombank in the spring, as well as MaeSens after upgrading at the end of the year. For the first six months of the platforms’ activity, the projects placed at Ulej collected $30,000; at Talakosht – $17,000; and at MaeSens (which has been working since 2011) – $300,000.

Art Project of the Year: Urban Myths Festival

From September to November 2015, street artists from different countries painted Minsk buildings based on their talks with local activists and modern history as part of the Urban Myths festival, organized by the Signal street art community. Two of the Minsk murals – Man without Identity and Girl in Embroidered Shirt – for the first time in Belarus history place in the top 10 ratings of the best graffiti in the world. The new artistic images caused heated debate between citizens who are irritated with graffiti and those who believe that street art makes Minsk more European.

Innovation of the Year: Online Platforms to Petition Government Agencies

This year’s mechanism to petition authorities and resolve citizens’ concerns moved increasingly online. A Minsk resident Valery Koldachev launched the One-Window-Online website, which enables people to send information about Minsk problems to the relevant state agency and monitor how the issue is resolved.

Comfortable City platform founded by the KoshtUrada project helps to create petitions and collect signatures to support them. The most impressive statistics belong to the 115.бел website of the Center for Information Technology of the Minsk municipality – launched on November 1st, the website has already solved about 1,500 issues in the sphere of housing and communal services.

And For Something Completely Different: The First Ever Nobel for Belarus Was not Celebrated by The State and Сaused Debates in Civil Society

This year’s Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, the country’s first Nobel laureate. While officials discreetly congratulated the laureate, who consistently criticizers the authoritarian regimes, ordinary Belarusians, independent media, and CSOs conducted creative flash mobs, organised joint watching of the award ceremony, and intensively covered the event.

Aleksievich also came under fire from some of Lukashenka’s opponents for allegedly not doing enough to cultivate Belarusian national identity, as well as not turning the Nobel lecture into a political rally. Yet, over a hundred Belarusians gathered at the airport to greet Svetlana Alexievich as she arrived back home and congratulate her on winning the prestigious award.

See Top 10 of the previous years – 2012, 2013, and 2014.




Successful Crowdfunding, Protestants Allowed to Gather For Prayer – Belarus Civil Society Digest

Mova Nanova website has reached 100,000 views per month. First success of Belarusian crowdfunding at Talaka.by – animated Peppa Pig collects 164% of the needed amount. Stakeholders continue discussion on establishment of the National University for Belarus.  

First Mahiliou city picnic gathers more than 1,000 people. Minsk authorities for the first time allow the Protestants to gather for a mass prayer. Regional volunteers collect and deliver aid assistance for the wounded in the conflict zone in Ukraine.

Civil Society Initiatives

Mova Nanova website reaches 100,000 views per month. The traffic of an updated website of Mova Nanova, free Belarusian language courses, has reached 100,000 views in a month. The most popular section is Mediateka, where one can find several thousands of Belarusian videos, audio materials and books. Mova Nanova/ Language Anew was founded in early 2014 and work in 10 Belarusian cities; weekly the courses are attended by 650 people.

Discussion on establishing the National University goes onEuroBelarus Information Service continues a series of interviews with different stakeholders on the initiative of establishing the National University. In her interview Dr. Tatsiana Sshytsovathe EHU professor, reasons whether Belarus needs such university and why: “Belarus strongly needs powerful constructive social initiatives. Retrograde Europe’s import is a mistake. Belarus is European to a degree it develops institutes in common-European context, reflexively identifying its experience in plural field of European cultures.”​

First success of Belarusian crowdfunding at Talaka.by. On 1 June the first successful crowdfunding campaign at Talakosht crowdfunding platform has finished. Project Peppa Peg that aimed at making a Belarusian language audio version of a known cartoon, has collected 61,85 million rubles (about $4,300); that is 164% of the sum needed. For two months of the campaign, the project was financially supported by 135 people.

First Mahiliou city picnic collects more than 1,000 people. Dranik Fest is next! On 30 May the first ever city picnic was held in Mahiliou. The organisers – City Initiatives Centre – tried to make it as different as possible: people could play Frisbee, twister, chess laser tag. The aim of the picnic was to inspire Mahiliou residents on collaborative actions. Now the City Initiatives Centre has an ambition to hold the second Dranik Fest that last year got a very positive feedback.

Regional Social Weekends identify winners. On May 22, Vitsebsk hosted finals of a regional Social Weekend, which brought together social ideas and business to support them. The competition presented eight projects of various topics; Grand Prix went to the Paralympic Fencing project. On May 30, the finals for regional projects is to be held in Brest. The Social Weekend is organised by MaeSens charity platform together with the Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC).

Humanitarian route Initiative Belarus-ATO helps Ukrainians in need. Homel volunteers collect and deliver aid assistance for the wounded in the conflict zone in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees. The money collected were enough to purchase a car for the medical service. The key principle of the initiative is not to arm any of the parties, but to help people who are left without protection – the wounded, the bereaved families, refugees.

Competition of public art objects at Brest. Agency of regional development Dzedzich opens a competition for creation of city installations and small architectural forms in Brest. The aim of the competition is forming of progressive cultural field in Brest and development steps in new forms of actual art. Everyone is welcome take part and make Brest more attractive.

Interaction between state and civil society

Minsk authorities for the first time allowed the Protestants to gather for a collective prayer. The day before Saint Easter evangelic Christians gathered to pray in the walls of Chyzouka Arena Ice place. As organisers explained, the place was supposed by Minsk city council. The collective pray was attended by about 800 people and the Christians are perceived that first ever approved mass-pray (after several rejections) is caused by their community social work.

Political prisoner Yury Rubtsou sentenced to two years in penal colony. On May 28, the Pružany District Court has sentenced a political prisoner Yury Rubtsou to two years of imprisonment in a minimum security penal colony on charges of evasion of serving his initial sentence. In the autumn of 2014, the Gomel activist Yury Rubtsou was sentenced to 1.5 years of special settlement on charges of insulting the judge. During the Charnobylski Shlyakh rally, Rubtsou was wearing a T-shirt with the inscription "Lukashenka, go away."

Easier terms for setting up trade unions in Belarus. The procedure of setting up trade unions has been simplified in Belarus in accordance with ordinance No.4 signed by Alexander Lukashenka on 2 June. The related amendments will create more favorable conditions for the operation of trade unions, enforcement and protection of social and labor rights and interests of employees.

In 2015 Belarusian journalists fined for more than $5,000. Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) tracks a chart of fines to journalists for violating article 22.9 of the Administrative Code (unlawful production and distribution of mass media products). In 2015, the whole amount of fines is 85 million rubles, or about $5,600.

Other

Delegation of European Parliament announces a 2-day visit to Belarus in June. Delegation of European Parliament headed by the chief of delegation on Belarus Bogdan Zdrojewski will have a two-day visit to Minsk on 18-19 June. The delegation plans to meet families of political prisoners, opposition and civil leaders and Belarus officials.

Top 30 websites in Belarus in April. Marketing.by presents the top 30 resources that have the largest coverage in Belarus in April 2015. Now Bynet has 5 million followers. In April, the Belarusian portal TUT.BYbeat youtube.com service and takes 5th place in the ranking. As before, the top 30 primarily consists of search services (Google.com – 1st place), social networks (Vkontakte – 2nd place), shopping sites, and entertainment services.

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.