Harassment against lawyers, Congress of Belarusian Studies, IdeaLab – Belarus civil society digest

Belarusian human rights defenders agree on joint principles of human rights work. Statkievič released after 5 days in jail. MOJ denies registration of United Civic Party’s women’s branch. BAJ assesses openness of governmental institutions for journalists.

24-hour carnival completes Vulica Brasil Urban Art Festival. Golden Age University in Hrodna opens enrollment of senior students for 9th round of informal education and activism program..

7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies releases its agenda with almost two dozens academic sections.

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

Human rights

Principles of human rights work in Belarus released. Over 70 Belarusian human rights activists took part in the creation of the document to avoid contradictions between the people involved in the protection of human rights. The document presents a set of professional and ethical principles determining the requirements for human rights defenders and their professional activities and open for accession.

Human rights activists alarmed over new wave of harassment against lawyers. The Ministry of Justice reportedly ordered an extraordinary certification of a number of lawyers, which may void the licenses of some of them, including those involved in politically motivated cases. According to HRC Viasna’s Head Alieś Bialiacki, the pressure is related to the authorities’ fear of possible social protests.

Opposition activist Mikalaj Statkievič released after 5 days in jail, on 31 August. It was not ruled out that he would stay in jail for 15 more days for the protest action that took place in Minsk in July. This way, he would miss the street protest scheduled on 8 September.

На старт! Увага! Марш! Мы пачынаем дзевяты навучальны сезон УЗВ!

Golden Age University participants. Photo: uzv.by

The Justice Ministry again refused to register a UCP women’s organisationGender Partnership, which is the women’s organisation of the United Civil Party (UCP), applied for registration in the form of a public organisation. This was not the first attempt to register.

Human Rights Situation in Belarus: July 2017. According to the monthly monitoring of HRC Viasna, in July, there were cases of administrative penalties, including the detentions. At the same time, there were a number of positive developments like the 4th round of the EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels and the parallel Civil Society Forum in Minsk on the eve of the 26th Annual Session of the OSCE PA.

Media

BAJ assessed openness of governmental institutions for journalists. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) survey, the most open state bodies are the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Court system, and the Ministry of Sports and Tourism. The least open institutions in the country are the Operative and Analytical Centre at the President, the Ministry of Information, and the KGB.

1st Belarusian media hackathon IdeaLab will be held on 7-8 October. During a two-day event, journalists and civic activists will work together on media projects. Professional journalists, infographers, and designers will help to project teams. IdeaLab is organised in the framework of the joint project of the IBB School of Journalism, Practical Competences Studio NGO, the Third Sector Centre NGO and others.

Culture

24-hour carnival completes Vulica Brasil festival. On 2 September, the gala Carnival on Oktyabrskaya street in Minsk closed the 4th Urban Art Festival Vulica BrasilBrazilian Street. The festival was held from 17 August  to 3 September  and traditionally added new murals from Brazilian graffiti artists to the streets of Minsk. The festival’s initiator is the Embassy of Brazil in cooperation with a number of Belarusian civil initiatives.

(Not)Shot Poetry project launches open lectures. On 1 September, the music portal Tuzinfm.by organises the first of 12 weekly lectures dedicated to outstanding Belarusian poets, shot on 29 October 1937. The lectures are held under (Not)Shot Poetry project that has also released a music compilation of 12 songs on the lyrics of the poets, killed in the Stalin’s era.

DranikFest in Mahilioŭ. Organised by the Centre for Urban Initiatives for the third time, the fest of national Belarusian food – potatoes’ pancakes (draniki) will be held on 30 September, in Mahilioŭ. To participate in the competition part, one needs to gather a team of 2-5 people and has a bag of potatoes. The fest also includes an entertaining program with live music, dances, and games.

Local and green activism

Golden Age University recruits for 9th round. Starting from 2010, the program of non-formal education and civic activity is open to Hrodna residents of 55+. The agenda includes over 40 different courses, public lectures, and integration activities. Traditionally, the University is organised by Practical Competencies Studio/Third Sector Centre NGO (Hrodna).

 Hackathon of social projects. On 16-17 September, The 10th Social Weekend contest invites to take part in Hackathon aimed to develop non-profit projects useful for society. The prize fund is $2,500 and the opportunity to get directly to the semi-final of Social Weekend 10. The previous social Hackathon gathered over 200 participants and generated 60 ideas.

The Seventh International Conference in Economics and Finance, Minsk. Photo: beroc.by

Good Neighbor. The Office of European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) is launching a series of workshops with activists who will share their experience of solving local problems in various fields. The first event is held on 12 September, in Minsk and dedicated to the eco-friendly entrances and yards. The project is implemented with the support of the U.S. Embassy Small Grants Program.

II International Cycling Festival is held on 19-20 August near Minsk. The festival aims to support the development of cycling in Belarus and unite representatives of the cycle industry, Belarusian cycling organisations and initiatives and just fans of two-wheeled vehicles. The event is designed as eco-friendly. Organisers are the Velodisko project and the Minsk Cycling Society.

Conferences

7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies releases agenda. The agenda includes almost two dozens of sections on topical issues of Belarusian politics, culture, and society. The Congress is an annual meeting of Belarusian and foreign scholars and experts, involved in studying Belarus. The 7th Congress will be held on 15-17 September in Warsaw, Poland and expects up to 600 participants.

7th International Conference in Economics and Finance took place in Minsk on 26 August. Organised by the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), the annual conference has become an important event stimulating economic research and professional discourse on the problems in the economy not only in Belarus but also worldwide.

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.




Belarus between EU and EEU, New Opposition Strategy – Digest of Belarusian Analytics

Over the past month analysts discussed continuing rapprochement of Belarus with the West and potential Russia’s responses to it. Meanwhile, influenced by Russian propaganda, Belarusians favour Eurasian integration over European, although official Minsk finds its result unsatisfactory.

Belarusian opposition changes its strategy in relations with the authorities and plans to push them to negotiations with backing of mass street pressure. However, a Ukrainian sociologist predicts that democracy in Belarus will come not earlier than in 50 years and conditions for a Maidan do not exist there. This and more in the new Digest of Belarusian Analytics.

Foreign policy

Belarus in the EAEC: a Year Later (Disappointing Results and Doubtful Prospects) – This report was presented in Minsk on March 22, by the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The report is devoted to the analysis of the first year of existence of the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) for Belarus. Among the key findings is that Minsk had great expectations from this association, but now finds it unsatisfactory.

Europe’s Last Dictator Comes in From the ColdArtyom Shraibman, for Carnegie Moscow Center, notices that Lukashenka’s fortunes have changed. Once known as “Europe’s last dictator,” he has won friends in Europe, while antagonizing his traditional ally, Russia. It’s a situation that has left the Kremlin in a difficult position: should it punish Belarus for its pro-Western tendencies? Or should it continue to prop up the Belarusian economy rather than risk further unrest in the region?

Belarus-Ukraine Relations Beyond Media HeadlinesYauheni Preiherman, in Eurasia Daily Monitor, notices that media narratives often distort the reality of Belarus-Ukraine relations. Some observers explain this by the absence of a “strategic vision for a long-term relationship”. The author sees this a typical feature of inter-state relations in the post-Soviet space, where politics is mainly about tactics, and fighting protectionist trade wars is part of the political culture.

Politics

Belarusian Opposition Comes Up With New Strategy: Negotiations With Authorities Due to Protest Pressure – Politicians and leaders of the mass protests discuss the lessons of "The Square-2006". The new strategy is likely to depart from the revolutionary approach to power change and focus on evolutionary approach, by changing relations between the authorities and the opposition through negotiations, backed by mass street pressure.

Ukrainian Sociologist: Maidan will not be in Minsk – Democracy in Belarus will come not earlier than in 50 years. This will happen only when society is ready for this. Artificial imposition of liberal values does not work, as well as there are no political or social preconditions for Maidan of the Kyiv scenario in Minsk, according to Ukrainian sociologist, Professor Eduard Afonin.

Public opinion polls

Majority of Belarusians want to keep death penalty. According to the March national poll conducted by IISEPS, 51.5% of Belarusians do not agree with the idea to abolish the death penalty; opposite opinion is shared by 36.4%. Women are less in favor of abolition of the death penalty than men – respectively 55.3% and 46.9%. Belarus is the only country in Europe and on the post-soviet space, which still applies the death penalty.

Belarus Between EU and EEU. Nation-Wide Poll – The ODB Brussels commissioned a survey about perceptions, preferences, and values Belarusians attribute to the European Union (EU) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). According to the study, Belarusians have a high-level understanding and appreciation of the EU, a clear opinion that the EU and EEU are competitors while public reasoning is currently swayed in favor of economic cooperation with the EEU.

Peculiarities of Public Opinion in BelarusGrigory Ioffe overviews the key results of a fresh national poll by IISEPS and an alarming reaction of official sociologists to the results, namely, the decline in Alexander Lukashenka’s electoral rating. Siarhei Nikalyuk, an associate of IISEPS, suggests that independent sociologists who are de facto allowed to work in Belarus are playing the role that jesters did in medieval Europe. After all, only a jester was allowed to speak the truth to the monarch, who actually appreciated that.

Other

Advocacy Sector in Belarus: CSO Experience – The study analyses the actual practices of advocacy in Belarus for the recent five years. The researchers see the key factor of success/failure of any campaign in its capacity for politicisation, i.e. whether authorities perceive a campaign political or not. The study was commissioned by OEEC in a series of sectoral studies aimed at summarising data on the development of specific sectors of civil society in Belarus. The presentation was held on March 24.

How to Make Minsk a Cycling City? – Pavel Harbunou, the Minsk Bicycle Society, shares the results of an annual monitoring on bicycle traffic on the Minsk streets, which shows that the number of cyclists has increased significantly in the city. The activists tells what can be done to make Minsk comfortable for all road users. Namely, the Bicycle Society launches a new campaign Street Bike Supervisor aimed to provide a regular feedback on the conditions of Minsk streets.

Ghetto for Each. Why Minsk Art Spaces Live Separately From Each OtherBelarusian Journal online describes the existing art spaces in Minsk, both mainstream and alternative. While a growing number of cultural spaces is a positive sign, it is too early to talk about the impact of these spaces for culture in general. It is more a question of the formation of separate subcultural groups, the original "ghetto" that arise, rather against the wishes of the state.​

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.




Cycling Boom Reaches Belarusian Cities

On 18 September morning, cycling activists handed out fruits to Minsk residents who travelled to their job or university by bike. In this way they wanted to thank people for their choice and to draw attention to the lack of a cycling environment.

In recent years Belarusian cities have truly flourished with cyclists. According to the estimates of the Belarusian Association of Experts and Surveyors on Transport, currently around 400,000 Minsk dwellers can be called cyclists, and this figure increases 10% annually.

However, urban infrastructure, traffic rules and most importantly official perceptions are unready to face this wave. The authorities see no justification for developing cycling because of finance, health and other factors. Although some measures have occurred in recent years, no public policy so far exists to support cyclists.

Authorities and Civil Society: Cycling Together?

In recent years Belarus, and especially the capital, Minsk, have seen a boom in cycling. The increasing number of cyclists has turned into a whole urban cultural and business trend. As an important transport and traffic element, it has brought a challenge to the authorities, who try to respond to the growing demands of cyclists.

In 2010 the Minsk State Automobile Inspection organisation published “A Concept of Develop​ing the Cycling System in Minsk”. This was created by the Belarusian Association of Experts and Surveyors on Transport. This is a civil association. The concept stated that while many people support the development of urban cycling city infrastructure remains poor. It proposed a plan of adjusting city space for cycling and introducing bike-friendly norms in future urban planning.

Not only the police, but also other executive officials have shown an interest in the development of cycling. In 2013 Minsk mayor Mikalaj Ladućka ordered the creation of a detailed plan to support it by adjusting street infrastructure, creating rental points, a cycling club and other facilities.

However, Ladućka did not fulfil these ambitions as Lukashenka transferred him to a lower position. The new mayor Andrej Šorac does not seem to be too preoccupied with the issue.

Although the government has not fulfilled the Concept of a Cycling System in many aspects, its very appearance has become an important precedent. As Pavel Harbunoŭ, an activist of the Belarusian Cycling Society says, the Concept appeared only as a framework document. It does not set concrete indicators, roles and the responsibilities of state bodies, so one can hardly expect effective implementation.

However, it is important that civil activists and authorities manage to cooperate constructively. Now the cyclists have good reasons to hope that a real cycling policy will appear from the government in the near future.

Cycling Becomes a Part of Urban Culture

A view that a grown-up man should have a car has always been widespread among Belarusian youths, and every schoolboy dreams of a car or at least motorcycle. However, modern urban youth have another perspective on the matter. Being environmentally friendly and having a healthy lifestyle has become crucial for many.

Belarusians use bikes for various reasons. Some consider riding a bike cheaper and healthier than using a car or public transport. For others it serves as fitness for an active life and keeping fit, and this group so far dominates in Minsk. And for some it became simply a stylish thing, which demonstrates their belonging to urban trends. Young people clearly dominate amongst those who own bicycles, but it has also became popular among the upper class older generation.

In 2011 a group of activists created the Belarusian Cycling Society with the aim of expanding the use of bicycles, developing cycling culture and tourism. In 2013 they also opened the first bike kitchen, a noncommercial bike workshop, where any cyclist can learn to fix their bike and get other related information. It also became a place for civil events dedicated to cycling and urban development.

So far such groups do most of the work in communication with the authorities and lead all advocacy campaigns. Slowly they try to resolve infrastructure, legal, financial and cultural obstacles to the development of cycling. These issues still remain numerous.

What Inhibits Cycling in Belarus

Despite a rather constructive and friendly attitude of the authorities towards the growing cycling community, many problems for cycling and cyclists remain unresolved. Pavel Harbunoŭ sees the main reason for the problems in the lack of a government policy. No one has yet calculated and presented to city bureaucrats how much Minsk will gain from such things like money, health, clean air, road surface. Having no well-grounded reasons for caring about cyclists, officials do not understand why they should improve the cycling environment. So a few serious obstacles for cycling persist.

According to the Belarusian traffic code, a cyclist can only ride on the pavement as riding on the road is prohibited. The police argue that until special cycle lanes are built on the roads, cyclists will remain in danger of accidents. Cyclists have respond that currently dangers exist when they have to manoeuvre among pedestrians, and this will increase when heavier electric bikes spread around the city in the future.

High penalties also remain one of the major problems for cyclists. Besides, they remain an obstacle not only for cyclists, but also for wheelchair users. Belarus introduced zero heights at the intersection of roads and pavements only in 2013. According to the Cycling Development Concept, 500 km of adjusted pavements should have appeared in 2011-2015, but the expected length will only be equal to 100 km.

Finally, cyclists expect that developers should have a deeper involvement in public discussions on new cycle projects. Very often government planners and private developers do not think about cyclist’s needs when designing city space. Cyclists say public discussions could resolve this problem, but developers do not publish information about public discussion or organise them during the project, making any changes impossible.

Already the large cycling community needs to unite and involve new expertise to make their advocacy more effective. Hopefully, their positive experience of cooperation with the authorities will bring more results in the coming years.




MaeSens Collects Record Donations, Cycling Initiatives, Lustration – Belarus Civil Society Digest

Cycling initiatives bloom in Belarus. MaeSens donations exceed $300,000. New Homel campaign launches a hotline for residents on local issues.

European Intercultural Festival announces creative competitions.

Makei flies Brussels, Head of Lithuanian MFA – to Minsk. Belarus and United States reciprocally reduce visa costs.

Cycling in Belarus

Velofreemarket is to be held in Minsk on July 27. The agenda provides exchanging bicycle items in the best traditions of freemarket: you can bring nothing, but take a couple of useful features for free. The organizers also promise practical workshops on bike repair and tuning, film screening, panel discussion and presentations from Minsk Cycling Society, Bike kitchen Garage 38, Critical Mass initiative, Falanster NGO and EcoTopia Bike Tour.

First Saturday bike event from IbikeMinsk project. On July 19, in the center of Minsk, a bike event under the project I-bike-Minsk took place, organised by a network of petrol stations A-100, Minsk Cycling Society, with the support of Green Alliance. The participants had an opportunity to demonstrate their ability in figure riding, send a postcard to friends, recalling the need for protecting the climate, as well as to rent a bike for "Thanks".

Cycling race Susedzі attended by about 700 participants. On July 19, a traditional amateur cycling race Susedzі 2014/ Neighbors took place at the August channel near Hrodna. This year the event was really a breakthrough both in the number of participants and volunteers. The youngest participant was 5 years old and the oldest 71. In total 693 people attended.

New Initiatives

Homel activists open a public hotline on local issues. The campaign New Homel launched a hotline for Homel residents who have concerns regarding conditions of their houses, yards, etc. New Homel became a logical transition from the campaign Novobelitsa implemented by a group of activists headed by Galina Kravchenko.

The campaign Novobelitsa achieved 20 victories in the city for eight months like installing new playgrounds, bicycle parking, etc. and that inspired activists to expand their activity for the whole city.

Donations collected by the MaeSens project have exceeded 3 billion rubles (about $300,000). MaeSens project is a social Internet platform, launched in October 2011. The main goal is raising funds for charity through charity auction meetings.

New UNDP initiative to integrate people with disabilities into society. Under its new initiative 'Inclusive development agenda beyond 2015: Social inclusion of peoples with disabilities in Belarus', UNDP offers everyone to talk about real-life experiences of people with disabilities through a special online platform. Once a sufficient number of stories are received, they will be processed with special software, and the results will form the basis of new programs and projects in the field of social inclusion.

Trip to Kiev for ideas. On July 21-24, in Kіev, a group of Belarusian activists and journalists participated in the information trip titled U Kraine Ideiau/In the Country of Ideas, organised by Belarus Watch. Participants had the opportunity to meet with leading organisations of today's Ukraine such as Public sector of Euromaidan, coalition 'Resuscitation reform package', Internet project Hromadske TV, Internews Ukraine, Centre UA. All meetings were broadcasted online.

Round table discussion entitled 'The relevance of lustration in the contemporary post-Soviet space' was held on July 18 by the public initiative 'Lustration for Belarus'. The range of issues for discussion included studying the Ukrainian experience, as well as examples of lustration in other post-Soviet countries, and possible options for the development of the Concept of Lustration in Belarus. The organisers came to the conclusion that Belarusian society must be prepared for the process of lustration in advance and invited those present to work together.

Culture

Shuma-Library ornament. Shuma musical project together with researchers made ethnography collection of traditional symbols of Belarus with a description of their value. Shuma-Library ornament is an educational project implemented completely on a charitable basis. Shuma-Library aims to broaden knowledge of authentic Belarusian symbolism, print favorite ornaments, embroider, do tattoos, etc.

European Intercultural Festival: contests. The European Intercultural Festival goes on to invite to participate in its contests, namely in European Belarus movie contest, children's drawing contest My Europe, essay contest My Favorite City in Belarus. The Festival is organised for the second time and to be held in Minsk on September 3-13, 2014 on the initiative of the Office for a Democratic Belarus, the Office for European Expertise and Communication and Fond of Ideas. The works for the contests should be submitted by August 30.

Presentations

Monitoring violations of academic freedom of students for January-May 2014. Studentskaya Rada Youth group in the framework of the Bologna Public Committee with the support of EuroBelarus presents the results of the Monitoring violations of academic freedom of students for the first five months of 2014. In particular, the authors note the increased pressure on students for their participation in CSO activities. The Monitoring is carried out in all Belarusian cities with the higher education institutions in order to obtain relevant information on the situation of academic freedom and the rights of students.

Presentation of Ales Bialiatski's book. The Quicksilver of Life is the first book by Chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna, Ales Bialiatski, which was presented in Minsk on July 22 with the participation of the author. The former political prisoner was released a month ago, on June 21, when the book was already printed. The book consists of a series of essays, or rather, letters from Ales Bialiatski, which he sent to his colleagues during his detention in Babruisk colony.

Foreign Affairs

Makei in Brussels. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Vladimir Makei took part in the Eastern Partnership Ministerial Meeting, which was held in Brussels on July 22, 2014. Vladimir Makei met with top officials of the European External Action Service and the European Commission as well as ministers of foreign Affairs of the EU Member States and the EaP Partner Countries.

Belarus and Lithuania foster dynamic cooperation (video). The corresponding assessment was made by the PM Mikhail Myasnikovich at his meeting with the Lithuanian Foreign Minister. The latter is also persuaded that good neighborly relations should be developed. Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevicius pays a working visit to Belarus on July 24-25. Belarus-Lithuania relations, cooperation between Belarus and the European Union are on the agenda.

USA reduces costs of visas for Belarusians on parity terms. After consultations between the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and the American side as of June 1, 2014 the universal consular fee for reviewing applications for issuing Belarusian visas of all kinds to USA citizens was set at $160. The U.S. reduced the cost of visas for Belarusians on parity terms and will now levy a similar consular fee of $160 for issuing a number of kinds of multiple-entry visas with the validity period of 12 months.

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.




Cycling As a Threat to the Belarusian Regime

On 17 August, Minsk cycling fans gathered to make an unusual ride – they agreed via social network to dress in 1950s style clothes. Around 50 people participated in the event, and it even drew the attention of Belarusian media.

Yet on 2 September police summoned Iryna Bijnik, the organiser of the ride. The police composed a record of evidence and the same day the trial occurred – Iryna received a fine for organising it. 

It came as a surprise to her and her friends when they learned that she had violated the law on mass actions, amended after 2011 silent protests. According to it, any public announcement of collective action (including the Internet) should receive the authorities’ permission. Now, a company of friends that agreed to have a drink on Facebook can theoretically be accused of breaking the law.

<--break->Events with similar outcomes happened in Vitsebsk and Brest earlier in the summer. They indicate that the regime still perceives organised citizens, even apolitical, as a threat to its stability.

The Limits of Absurd in Regime Security

The 2011 summer appeared to be a quite nervous time for the Belarusian regime. With the Arab Spring in the background, it experienced the one of its most serious economic collapses and the widespread dissatisfaction of the public with state policy. This led to mass protests, which took place in many cities of Belarus and received the name “silent protests”, because people clapped hands instead of shouting slogans, which authorities could qualify as a violation of mass political actions and therefore initiate legal proceedings.

The authorities quickly realised this loophole in the law and in early autumn of 2011 the notorious Minister of Internal Affairs Anatol Kuliašoŭ presented amendments to the law before the Belarusian pocket parliament. The parliament announced that its sessions were closed for media and adopted the amendments in one day, as hardly any discussions are possible when it comes to the regime’s security.

According to the amendments, organisers of an event cannot publicly invite people to participate in it before they receive permission of local authorities. Importantly, this concerns any mass gatherings regardless of their aims – political, entertainment, or any other.  The law also extended the list of places where mass actions cannot take place, and stipulates how those places, where organisers who have received permission, must have surveillance devices, fences and checkpoints.

Civil society took the amendments as a further restriction on civil liberties of Belarusian citizens, although the authorities rarely apply it since its adoption. However, in the summer and autumn of 2013 several cases of its ridiculous application finally took place.

Collective Cycling Prohibited

On 17 August, Minsk cycling fans gathered to make an unusual ride – they agreed to dress in 1950s style via social network. The event drew the attention of Belarusian media, which reported around 50 participants. Iryna Bijnik, who organised the ride in social networks, said they did not plan any particular number of participants. All interested people could join the ride.

After two weeks, Iryna unexpectedly had to visit the police. The same day the court imposed on Iryna a fine of BYR 2m ($220).

The police initiated the case because one policeman noticed the information for the gathering on the web after it had already happened. No policeman witnessed or made a report of the live event on the day it happened.

The head of Minsk cycling society Jaŭhien Charužy considers this fine a dangerous precedent. “Collective cycling takes places almost every day in Minsk, and up to 250 people take part in it. It is often spontaneously organised and it is hard to define the organiser”, he says. Now, as such cases are starting to happen, the police can interpret any gathering of people as an unauthorised action and therefore declare it as illegal.  

No Candy Showers Too

It turned out that not only the Minsk authorities see collective cycling as a potentially dangerous action. A similar case took place in Vitsebsk on 5 September. Uladzimir Bulaŭski had already organised two cycling tours around Vitsebsk for all interested people and was going to hold another one. He arranged the meeting on a social network and provided his contact information, but the authorities did not contact him on.

Instead, on the day of the tour the cyclers found a number of policemen in the place of meeting. The police fined people right on the spot and even those who had no intention to participate received fines. Some people were detained for “absence of rear-view mirrors, bell and flashing lights”. Bulaŭski says the cyclers will definitely fix all necessary technical issues if the problem lies indeed there. But it seems not to be the case.

Earlier in July, another curious happening related to the law on mass actions occurred in Brest. During the opening of a new mall, the company decided to surprise the people and organise a candy shower. It announced that at the opening ceremony they will throw a ton of candy from the roof of the building.

The organisers requested an action of 500 participants at local authorities for this occasion. Instead, 5,000 people came while only 6 policemen were sent to keep order. The police ordered not to throw the candy to avoid a stampede, but the organisers ignored their orders. As a result, the police initiated a case against them for breaking the law on mass actions.

The Fear of Organisation

Authorities try to explain that a public announcement in social networks can be dangerous, because it can gather an inestimable number of people and the situation can get out of control. Some officials understand that permits for daily collective actions of citizens like cycling seems ridiculous, but they have to obey the law and recommend to cooperate with authorities on these matters. For instance, they suggest that people hold their actions under the aegis of local authorities or security services, which do not need permission for such actions.

But the reason behind the actions of authorities appears not to be their concern for the safety of the participants. They simply demonstrate that citizens in Belarus have no right to associate with one another without the state’s approval and control. Such irrational fear of harmless actions like cycling looks like nonsense, but it precisely shows the logic of the regime-society’s current coexistence.

The people in power regard organised citizens not as partners in the resolution of public problems, but as a potential danger to regime stability. Therefore maintaining an atomised society remains a priority of internal security in Belarus. 




AD.NAK, ‘Tell the Truth’, Social Contracting – Belarus Civil Society Digest

The most important civil society events in Belarus included the festival of Belarusian-language advertising, a civic campaign of Tell the Truth and arrests of its leaders as well as a number of training courses organised for civil society in Belarus. 

AD.NAK! The 3rd Festival of Belarusian-language advertising and communications AD.NAK! opened its doors to members of the competitive program. The main objective of the 2012 festival is to give new impetus to the development of the advertising and communications market in Belarus. The idea for ​​the festival belongs to the cultural campaign Budzma Belarusians! The organising partner of the festival is online resource Marketing.by.

Civil contract with Tell the Truth. The Tell the Truth campaign released a video  titled Civil contract wins China's industrial park. The video explains in an accessible form how citizens can influence the government through a civil contract with the Tell the Truth campaign.

Belarusian internet party. According to EuroBelarus, Facebook community Belarusian Internet Party is the most interesting and promising among Belarusian internet communities. The group was established to consolidate Belarusian society, the revival of interest in political debates, to discuss current issues and find possible ways to resolve them. As of 1 May, the number of participants was about 2,300. The group is represented in several social networks and on Facebook it has a few pages.

Coalition of the six. On 2 May, a meeting of the “coalition of six”, a group of opposition parties and movements, took place in Minsk. According to public information, issues concerning running in the parliamentary elections were not discussed. Instead, the coalition focused on the issues of Belarus’ modernization and cooperation between political parties, NGOs, and the expert community. The experts of ‘Solidarity with Belarus’ Information Office (Warsaw) commented on the meeting’s results as "personal ambitions continue to outstrip strategic aims of the opposition".

Belarusian Human Rights School. The Belarusian Human Rights School, organised by the community of human rights organisations, announces a competition for participation in the 2012 Summer School on Human Rights. Under the program, participants will learn about the history and philosophy of human rights, as well as the methods and tools of protection at the national and international levels. The School invites participation from young Belarusians of 18-25 years old interested in the field of human rights. The Program takes place in Vilnius (Lithuania), at the Belarusian Human Rights House.

Rally of wheelchair-bound disabled persons. On 5 May, a rally organised by the Republican Association of Wheelchair-Bound Disabled Persons, devoted to the support of the international movement of disabled people for equal rights and against discrimination, was held in Minsk. About 100 people with posters were talking about their rights and problems, and about the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. A cat in the cage became the symbol of the meeting. The poster read, “I’m OK, I live in a cage”.

Opening of the cycling season in Minsk. On 6 May, the opening of the 2012 bike season took place in Minsk. A Traditional spring sports Festival was organised by the website poehali.net, the Federation of Adventure Races and Minsk cycling organization. The festival programme included competitions for cross country, figure driving, and orienteering, and contests for children. Registration and participation were free.

A new network of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). For the first time in Belarus, CSOs working in the field of preventing domestic violence will join the network. The network has been created to enhance the role of CSOs in the prevention and combating domestic violence in Belarus by increasing their capacity to conduct preventive work and to provide expert assistance to victims of domestic violence. The institute meeting for the network members is to be held on 26 May. According to the BASW newsletter.

HIV awareness. Between 7-21 May, the photo exhibition "HIV awareness" will be held in Minsk. The purpose of the photo project is to reduce stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive people. The photo project is part of the Message information and cultural campaign, implemented by the Belarusian NGO Positive Movement and supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Trip to Tbilisi for higher education specialists. The Brussels-based Office for a Democratic Belarus together with the Office of European Expertise and Communications (Minsk) is organizing a trip to Tbilisi for 5-6 Belarusian specialists in the field of higher education under a program titled The EU and Belarus: Sharing Experience. During the visit Belarusian specialists will be able to establish contacts with colleagues from leading universities in Tbilisi, to learn about local universities’ experience of their transition to the Bologna system. The trip will take place in early June 2012.

Training courses on writing proposals for NSA/LA program. The Office of European Expertise and Communications (Minsk) is organising a series of training courses titled Development and Submission of Project Proposals to European Commission Competition "Non-state actors and local authorities (NSA/LA)" for representatives of governmental and non-profit organisations, and local authorities. The closest training course will be held in Vitsebsk, on 12-13 May.

​Interaction between State and Civil Society

Andrei Dzmitryieu and Mikhail Pashkevich sentenced to 10 days arrest. The Smaliavichy district court sentenced Andrei Dzmitryieu and Mikhail Pashkevich, activists of the Tell the Truth civil campaign, to 10 days arrest. The activists were accused of violating the rules for holding mass events for a meeting of summer houses owners in the Smaliavichy district. They protested against the construction of a Chinese-Belarusian industrial park on the territory of nearby villages.

Presidential administration thanks opposition activist. Jan Dziarzhautsau, a Belarusian Popular Front activist from Vitebsk, received a formal response from the presidential administration written in Belarusian thanking him for his active civic position. Mr. Dziarzhautsau complained to the presidential administration against local public officials, who refused to respond to written inquiries in Belarusian.

MoU on cooperation in environmental protection. On 8 May, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Belarus, the non-governmental organisation APB BirdLife Belarus and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) of the United Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in environmental protection. The memorandum envisages information exchange on climate change and biodiversity as well as building partnership in environmental protection.

State social contracting develops in regions. The regional executive committee in Slutsk has called for social projects aimed at preventing HIV in their districts. The competition invites participation from registered non-profit organizations, except political parties. The selected projects will be funded by  the executive committee and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Earlier the same social projects’ contests were announced in Zhlobin, Svetlahorsk, Salihorsk and Osipovichi. All competitions are held at the initiative and with advisory support of the NGO ACT.

Hearing of Syarhey Kavalenka's appeal. The hearing of Syarhey Kavalenka's appeal against his prison sentence will resume in the Vitsebsk Regional Court on 18 May. He is currently being held in solitary confinement in a detention centre in Vitsyebsk.

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.