The Mova Cup, Embroidery Day, Hotline Green Phone – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Mova Cup took promoted the use of the Belarusian language trying oneself in various sports. The Embroidery Day will celebrate the Belarusian national dress.
All-Belarusian Congress for Independence scheduled for December. The European Humanities University welcomes new students.
A special hotline Green Phone received over 120 complains from Belarusian citizens regarding the urban environment.
Interaction between the state and civil society
Belarus temporarily restricts ways of crossing the border with Lithuania to cars only, citing lack of capacity. This means no more pedestrian crossing. This decision sums up government-and citizens relations: government does not adapt to citizens demand, it makes citizens adapt to its capacity.
Parliament responds the e-appeals of the citizens. In 2015 Belarus will develop the law ‘On the treatment of animals’; criminal responsibility for cruelty to animals may be introduced already in the next session of Parliament. Such a response is received by the activists of a public campaign 'NO cruelty to animals' on their electronic appeals to the Parliament on the issue of improving the legislation.
Radio Racyja journalist denied accreditation seven times. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the seventh time denied accreditation to Viktar Parfionenka, journalist of the Radio Racyja. For the last semester, several journalists have been held accountable for contributing to Belsat and Radio Racyja; penalties include warnings and pretty huge fines.
Mova Cup. On 28 September Minsk hosted the National Sports Festival Mova Cup/Language Cup. Everyone was invited to try oneself at various sports, wherein communicate in Belarusian. Front persons of the Festival were stars of Belarusian sports, including the famous swimmer Alexandra Herasimenya.
Embroidery Day. On 5 October for the first time the Embroidery Day will be held in Minsk. The festival is intended to show that the Belarusian national dress is stylish and noticeable. At the event, visitors will be able to buy clothes and other items with some features of traditional Belarusian culture, play Belarusian games, listen to the music bands, etc.
The second European Intercultural Festival sums up the results. This year the 2nd European Intercultural Festival in September was held under a slogan ‘Getting to know each other better’. During 10 days of exhibitions, movie and photo shows, discussions and lectures, master-classes and presentations in Minsk, Grodno, Mogilev and Brest hundreds of participants united by the Festival had a chance to learn more about the culture of Belarus, Germany, Georgia, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and other countries.
Hotline Green Phone received more than 120 complaints on the urban environment. On 16-20 September a special hotline Green Phone worked as part of the international campaign Mobility Week. According to the results, the Belarusian city residents call the following top 3 most actual urban environmental problems: parking in green areas and playgrounds (about 90% of all calls), the lack of green areas in the courtyards and the absence of a barrier-free environment.
Green Forum was held in Grodno on 27 September. CSOs, representatives of government agencies and environmental activists were invited. The agenda included discussions on the most pressing environmental issues and presentations of environmental events and campaigns implemented in the Grodno region. The Forum was planned to result in making a map of regional environmental issues as well as meeting organisations and activists for their further cooperation. The organiser was Green Alliance network.
The annual United Students of Belarus (USB) Rally will take place in Lithuania on 1-5 October 2014. Organised by the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, the USB Rally is an opportunity to meet Belarusian youth studying around the world, as well as to join the informal international network of Belarusians. The 8th USB Rally is devoted to the development of multicultural dialogue in attempt to establish a reciprocal conversation with other cultures, develop an open and active society through development of Belarusian identity.
School of trainer skills. In October-November 2014, training Centre of the portal Kariera.by together with partner organisations in Minsk (Business Club IMAGURU), Brest (Brest Regional Development Fund) and Grodno (VIT NGO) opens groups on basic education in 'School of trainer skills’. The aim of the course is to prepare participants for independent work as trainers using the principles, content and methods of non-formal education.
Pilot Art Leader School will start in October in Minsk. A unique international educational project of the Centre for Visual and Performing ArtsART CORPORATION aims to attract young leaders to shaping the cultural space of the country, as well as develop their skills for the implementation of art projects at a high international level. Representatives of all art professions under the age of 35 years with their own project ideas in the field of theatre or cinema are invited to participate.
EHU welcomes nearly 400 new students. Three hundred ninety-two new students will begin their studies at European Humanities University (EHU) this fall. On Tuesday, 30 September an official ceremony opening Academic Year 2014-15 will be held on campus in Vilnius. More than 95% of the new students are from Belarus, with the rest hailing from countries that include Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Kazakhstan.
Journalistic competition 'Choose Life'. Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Penal Reform International announce a call for journalistic materials on the subject of the death penalty. Materials are accepted until 30 September.
Contest ‘People's journalist – 2014’. Project People’s journalist announces a new competition of materials from the citizens of Belarus. The aim of the competition is to include people in the joint activities, so they can see that together can achieve results and solve specific problems. Among the criteria for the best materials are topics that will not be released in the official media, Belarusian language as the main, etc. Materials are accepted until 15 October.
All-Belarusian Congress for Independence to be held in December. Academician Radzim Garetsky, Professor Mikola Savitsky, writer Uladzimir Arlou, director Uladzimir Kolas and prof. Mikhail Pastukhou joined the organising committee headed by Alena Anisim, deputy chairperson of the Belarusian Language Society. According to the organisers, the ground for the congress is related to an agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union that carries a direct threat to the independence of Belarus.
Alternative CSO report at OSCE HDIM side event. On 26 September representatives of the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs together with the Legal Transformation Centre held a side event in the frames of the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2014 in Warsaw. The side event focused on the presentation of the alternative report on the freedom of association and legal status of CSOs in Belarus, which was prepared by Belarusian CSOs in the frames of the second UN Universal Periodic Review cycle.
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.
The Belarusian Opposition: Recovering from 2010, Preparing for 2015
Everyone knows that the Belarusian opposition has had little chance of being elected since the late 1990s. Repression against the opposition continues to turn up more frequently in the news than their own actions, particularly given the Western public's palate for news from the "last dictatorship of Europe". So what, then, is the opposition actually doing?
At present, Belarusian civil society is still recovering after the wave of repression it faced following the 2010 presidential elections, all while preparing for the 2015 presidential elections. There are some signs of life, however. The Belarusian intelligentsia recently announced its intention to hold a congress for Independence before the end of the year. The opposition may hold its own convention shortly thereafter.
Across the country, the ‘People’s Referendum’ coalition is holding public hearings and meetings with the members of parliament, and their representatives handed to the Belarusian Parliament 50 thousand signatures they collected. Representatives from ‘Talaka’, another opposition alliance, are opening centres to involve common people in the political process.
What Is the Opposition Up To?
The ‘People’s referendum’ coalition is an amalgamation of several civil society and political organisations has remain fairly active. The coalition mainly focuses on speaking to voters about bread-and-butter issues, collects signatures for various initiatives and holds public meetings to discuss pressing issues. In August-September, the political bloc held public meetings on how to improve Belarusian education and healthcare in eight cities.
On 2 October, the coalition's politicians handed over to Belarusian parliament a petition with 50 thousand signatures in support of their proposed reforms. Moreover, their political leaders now and again secure meetings with members of the House of Representatives.
The ‘Talaka’ coalition has a different breed of politics. It emphasises political problems over social issues and regularly opens coordinating centres that seek to involve common people in the political process. Recently the alliance opened three of these centres with the support of several prominent figures, including an appearance by the former head of the National Bank Stanislaŭ Bahdankievič, a book presentations by Pavel Seviaryniec and Anatoĺ Liabiedźka. The word ‘centre’, however, should be taken with a grain of salt as they are being run in the opposition parties’ offices that existed prior to their opening.
Other political players are already preparing for the 2015 presidential elections. Valiery Fraloŭ, a retired General and a deputy chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), will run for the presidency independently. On 28 August, a number of NGOs supported his candidacy to participate in the presidential elections, though on the very same day his own party's congress refused to acknowledge their nomination, perhaps a symptom of the internal politics of the Belarusian opposition's greater malaise.
In terms of media presence, the Belarusian opposition continues to primarily be active on independent outlets. By far the most popular Belarusian web-site, TUT.by, often writes about pro-democratic forces and many political figures and activists have blogs on Naviny.by, another famous Belarusian web-site. However, journalists privately say that articles from the opposition attract few readers, as they typically just criticise Lukashenka's regime, while not offering any positive proposals of their own.
The Belarusian opposition's low level of activity and visibility has made them less interesting for international partners or the media. Typically, following the elections, pro-democratic forces will see surge in international visitors or making their own trips abroad. The opposition, of course, has had a high profile in the past. Aliaksandr Milinkievich even received the Sakharov Prize back in 2006. Yet nowadays few Western politicians remain interested in Belarus. Moreover, decision-makers, who understand the region, are concentrating on Ukraine right now.
In early December, the Belarusian intelligentsia intends to hold a congress for independence. They believe that the accession of Belarus to the Eurasian Economic Union threatens the independence of the country.
Several prominent intellectuals are among the organisers and Elena Anisim, deputy head of the Belarusian Language Society, is the congress' coordinator. According to some rumours floating about, she may even receive the congress' nomination to participate in the presidential election. Anisim has already gave several interviews in which she declared her readiness to run.
The traditional (i.e. political) opposition is preparing to its own congress as well. The Belarusian Popular Front, Belarusian Christian Democrats, the United Civil Party, the Belarusian United Left Party Fair World, the Movement for Freedom, the Tell the Truth campaign and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) are organising a convention together. At the moment it looks like it will place at the beginning of next year.
Currently, the opposition is in the process of nominating its delegates to the congress — this procedure actually will determine the results of the congress. Currently the parties are discussing several options: nominations from the regional conventions, primaries or via a collection of signatures. Organisers will also guarantee several places for VIPs to be chosen from among leading intellectuals.
Not everyone is in agreement on the congress. Parties from the 'Talaka' coalition remain in the minority, but can still block the process and foil their plans. Privately politicians say that ‘People’s referendum’ can hold a congress on its own if 'Talaka' continue to procrastinate with its nominations.
What are the Chances for Success?
The ‘People’s referendum’ coalition remains the most active segment of the opposition. Although they work directly with people, collecting a mere 50,000 signatures in the span of a year is not all that impressive. After events in Ukraine, Belarusians have shown a distaste for revolution and politicians should pay more attention to public gatherings and meetings with representatives of the regime as it shows that the opposition wants dialogue, not revolution.
The nomination of a single opposition candidate remains problematic. The ideological differences in the Belarusian opposition have little intrinsic value and is rather a war of personalities, not politics. Therefore, the congress may result not in a union, but in the opposition becoming even further divided.
The congress of intellectuals, although a significant event, remains minor in terms of its potential impact. The organisers have always been close to the opposition, as well as participated in the previous congresses of Belarus's democratic forces.
For a future campaign, honing the skills of party activists remains vital, as local politicians are still not very professional. There is no point in blaming pro-democracy activists though, as it is difficult to become a politician in a country which has no real politics. The real problem is that the opposition is full of old faces. Even various Western-funded seminars attract basically the same crowd.
Therefore, this latest awakening of the Belarusian opposition would appear to be minor and belated, but the good news is that the opposition still exists.