The First Ostrogorski Forum, Seminar at BSU, Belarus-Poland Relations – Ostrogorski Centre Digest
This summer Ostrogorski Centre analysts have analysed developments in Belarus-Poland relations, life of regional media and the case of a new potential political prisoner. The Centre also published a major study of Belarus-Russia relations after the Ukraine conflict.
In July the Centre held the first Ostrogorski Forum, a conference on foreign policy and security in Minsk which featured video-recorded debates of experts with different views.
The centre also organised a seminar on Higher and Non-Formal Education in cooperation with the School of Business and Management of Technology of the Belarusian State University.
On 29 June the Ostrogorski Centre held the first Ostrogorski Forum, a conference on foreign policy and security in Drazdy Club, Minsk. This year's conference theme was 'Inertia, strengthening neutrality or change the foreign policy orientation? Foreign policy Belarus at the present stage'.
The conference programme featured prominent Belarusian experts, both pro-government and independent, as well as academics from state universities and government officials.The programme included researchers from the Ostrogorski Centre, the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, the "Political Sphere" institute, the Centre for European Studies and the Belarusian Analytical Workroom presented their papers on foreign relations and security.
The conference featured five studies conducted in spring 2016 with grant support from the Mott Foundation and Pontis Foundation and implemented jointly with Ostrogorski Centre.
The speakers discussed the issues of Belarusian soft power in the region, Belarusian-Russian relations after the conflict in Ukraine, foreign policy of Belarus in the context of the CIS, the potential of Belarusian neutrality and the geopolitical orientation of Belarusians.
The conference is expected to become an annual event to promote professional and respectful dialogue between experts with different political views. Videos of all conference sections (mostly in Belarusian) are available online.
Seminar on Higher and Non-Formal Education
On 30 June the Ostrogorski Centre and School of Business and Management of Technology of Belarusian State University jointly organised a seminar in Minsk on higher and non-formal education in Belarus.
The seminar featured three presentations of studies, conducted by the Ostrogorski Centre (Revisiting non-formal education in Belarus), the Centre for European Studies (Problems of modernisation of higher education in Belarus: social sciences and humanities) and School of Business and Management of Technology of BSU (Conditioning factors of entrepreneurial activity Belarusian students).
On 1 August, the Ostrogorski Centre published a new analytical paper "Belarus-Russia Relations after the Ukraine Conflict" by Ryhor Astapenia and Dzmitry Balkunets. The research is available in three languages: English, Belarusian and Russian.
Ryhor Astapenia argues that Poland will be improving its links with official Minsk at the expense of opposition groups. Poland has recently been reducing its level of support for pro-democracy groups and is trying to improve relations with the Belarusian authorities.
However, the changes in Polish policy cannot be explained only by attempts to improve relations with Belarusian authorities. The lack of chances for democratic changes as well as brutal repression reduces interest in Belarus among many foreign donors, including Polish ones.
Vadzim Smok analyses the case of Eduard Paĺčys, who is undergoing criminal investigation for creating a website which allegedly contained radical ideas. A new political prisoner is in the interests of neither the European Union nor the Belarusian government, as a warming of relations continues to be important for the bilateral agenda. However, Belarusian authorities may use the case of Eduard Paĺčys to demonstrate that any activity inspiring national conflict, including anti-Russian discourse, will be stopped immediately.
Ryhor Astapenia discusses the problems of regional newspapers in Belarus, which continue to suffer due to repression and the poor economic conditions of recent years. Nearly all of them currently lack funds, forcing talented journalists out of regional publications. The West have done much to support the regional press, but could do more to train media managers and put pressure on the Belarusian government to include independent newspapers into public distribution network.
In July the Ostrogorski Centre successfully completed the project producing eight research papers in the areas of foreign policy, security and education of Belarus. The project was supported by the grant from the Mott Foundation and implemented in cooperation with the Pontis Foundation. Please find a publication of paper abstracts here.
Comments in the media
Analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre Ryhor Astapenia explains on Polish Radio what to expext during coming visit of the Turkish president to Belarus. While earlier Turkey needed Belarus as a medium in economic relations with Russia, particularly in tourism, now this role of Belarus diminishes as Russia and Turkey lower the heat in bilateral relations.
Yaraslau Kryvoi in the Interview of the Week on Radio Liberty speaks on attempts of Belarusian civil society to influence policies of Belarusian authorities, conference Ostrogorski Forum and the consequences of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
Ryhor Astapenia argues that Belarus is seeing an economic revolution. What is the nature of this revolution? How stable will the new Belarusian ruble be? Will the authorities legalise Pahonia following the popularity of national ornaments? Listen to the analysis of these and other topics in the "Political mirror" programme on the Polish Radio.
Vadzim Smok takes part in consultations with a group of advisers to the Board of Directors of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Advisers are visiting Belarus to gain a better understanding of Belarus and the bank’s operations. During their stay they will meet experts, municipal authorities as well as local and foreign investors.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update the database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
- Aliena Arciomienka. Civil society and political opposition have a particular view of reforms in Belarus. BISS, 2016.
- Sierž Naūrodski, Iryna Lafiuk, Vladimír Benč, Uladzimir Valetka, Martin Lačný. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine: machine industry report. CASE Belarus, 2016.
- Leanid Spatkai. Border security of Belarus. Belarus Security Blog, 2016.
- Alexander Gedranovich, Mykhaylo Salnykov. Analysing the productivity of the Belarusian system of higher education. BEROC, 2012.
- Anastasiya Luzhina. A convergence analysis of the Russian and Belarusian economies in the case of monetary integration. BEROC, 2012.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by completing this form.
The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com, BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.
Why Belarus Fails to Attract Foreign Tourists
In April 2016 the NGO Priceconomics published an article entitled Which Countries Are the Most / Least Overrun by Tourists? in which Belarus was ranked the 11th least popular country for tourists.
The fact that a central European country is as appealing to tourists as Niger, Chad, or Sudan has already caused much discussion in Belarus.
Two facts add fuel to these discussions. First of all, Belarus attracted an unexpectedly low amount of tourists during the 2014 World Hokey Championship. Only 137,400 organised tourists visited Belarus in 2014 (0,5% growth compared to 2013). Unfortunately, due to a change in methodology for the year 2015, the National Statistics Committee has not published reliable data.
Secondly, in 2015 Belarus completed the state tourism development programme for 2011-2015. BYR 4299 bn were allocated for only a portion of the Tourism development programme's implementation. Given the large amount of money invested, one could expect either better results or a deep analysis of the failure.
Strange plans and statistical games
Unfortunately, before its implementation the programme performed only a fragmented analysis of the tourism sphere. Moreover, the authorities have provided no reports on the programme’s success.
However, the parts of the programme for which we do have concrete figures demonstrate its dramatic failure. The table below illustrates this idea:
The officially quoted number of organised tourists serves as a perfect example of statistical ‘games’ in Belarus. In 2010-2014 the authorities provided this figure without counting separate excursions within the country as additional tourists. However, when the time came to file a report, the authorities had included excursions in this number: in other words, a tourist arriving in Minsk who was later re-registered in Brest or Hrodna because of an excursion could be counted up to three times. Thus, they claimed 276,260 foreign tourists but counted many of them at least twice.
Unfortunately for the Belarusian authorities, the number of trips made by foreign citizens to Belarus reveals the actual situation. In 2010 this number amounted to 5,673,800 trips, while in 2015 it fell to 4,357,200 trips (by 23,2%).
The number of tourists ‘served by organisations which provide services for tourists’ in 2010-2014 strangely corresponds to the number of organised tourists. However, in 2015 the statistical authorities named only 101,686 tourists. One can consider this figure as more or less accurate and far less than the planned 190,000 tourists.
Vague descriptions instead of exact figures
Unfortunately for experts, the programme primarily contains descriptive goals and indicators. Vague expressions such as ‘to examine the possibility, to raise the level’ or ‘to conduct discussions on the issue’ dominate in the programmes’ activities and / or expected results. Much time is devoted to studying the "international experience."
The existing figures seem rather dubious and poorly grounded. The predominance of round numbers, the absence of correlations, as well as the overly linear rate of growth regardless of time period support these doubts. The programme provides neither explanation nor calculations for these figures.
In some situations even their economic value remains ambiguous. Authorities allocated BYR 4299 bn for only part of the programme's implementation. At the same time, the planned total revenue from export was to amount to BYR 4365 bn.
The correlation between figures also raises questions. One can hardly expect that growth in foreign tourists’ visits by 163% would increase the export of touristic services by 348%. However, neither the programme, nor the scarce information on its accomplishment, nor real results suggest any explanations for these figures.
Moreover, the programme, designed as a five-year plan, fails to stipulate any serious inner mechanism of policy correlation which would take into account the unstable economic situation in Belarus. Most of its planned results (such as ‘development of the tourism market’) are practically unverifiable and leave a lot of room for embezzlement.
No real analysis or participation of interested parties
The programme almost completely excluded any participation from interested public parties. State agencies acted as the programme’s ordering parties, designers, performers and even consumers.
While many experts point to the complicated visa regime, the inexplicable system of registration of foreign visitors with the immigration police and the general unfriendly environment, the programme’s designers failed to co-operate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Border Guard Committee. Private companies certainly have had no say in the programme.
Poor service remains one of the main sources of complaints in the tourism sphere in Belarus. However, the programme almost completely failed to consider this aspect at all and provides no recommendations for improvement.
The system of monitoring and control also remains strikingly undeveloped. The programme really stipulates only one form of monitoring and control – annual reports to the Ministry of Sports and Tourism and a following report to the Council of Ministers. Naturally, such self-reporting results in poor implementation and provokes numerous rumours about the corrupt nature of state programmes.
What is the future?
The programme excludes any clear and reasonable criteria for its execution or effectiveness. Given the economic and political situation in Belarus, any medium-term planning appears impossible. The prevailing ‘manual’ methods of administration preclude setting strategic goals, developing long-term policies, or achieving predicted and grounded results.
The apparent lack of public inclusiveness, transparency, and control suggest the programme’s real function is to act as an instrument of redistributing public funds among elite groups rather than developing the country's tourism industry.
The statistical data confirm the simple truth: the development of tourism in Belarus requires comprehensive and fundamental changes, as well as mutual cooperation between business and the state. Otherwise, Belarus risks staying at the level of Niger, Sudan, Chad, Guinea etc. not only when it comes to appeal to tourists but in other spheres as well.