Threats to Belarus, Eurasian Union, Political Prisoners – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Belarusian analysts discuss the threat to Belarusian statehood from Russia, the pros and contras of the Eurasian Economic Union as well as protest potential and intensified contacts of Belarus with the West.
Karbalevich on Belarus: Hybrid Ally – Valery Karbalevich believes that both the opposition and the authorities are aware of the threat of Belarus' independence from Russia, which arose after the accession of Crimea. According to the expert, to confront Russia, Belarus should become truly independent, ie, to create a viable economic system able to exist without Russian privileges. But Lukashenka cannot go for reforms, "because the transformation of Belarus is a bigger threat to his rule than the hybrid potential war with Russia."
Russian Media: Belarus Should Join Russia or It will Be Liquidated – The Russian business newspaper Vzglyad published an article calling for Alexander Lukashenka to hold a referendum in the autumn of 2015 on the accession of Belarus to Russia. The journalist notes that Lukashenka needs to decide whether he is with Russia or the West. Otherwise, Belarus could suffer the fate of Ukraine.
The Eurasian Economic Union: Analyses and Perspectives from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia – In the present publication, four perspectives from three member states of the EEU have been drawn together, which together sharpen the vision on the emerging trends of the Eurasian integration process – and its numerous contradictions. Arseniy Sivickiy (Minsk) perspective on the EEU hinges on clear differences of interest in the design of the EEU contract and its implementation.
Opinion. Devaluation of Political Prisoners – Artiom Shraibman, TUT.BY, analyses recent developments in the warming relations between Belarus and the West: "The Europeans and the Americans themselves knocking at the door, saying that economic cooperation is no longer linked to political differences, does not contradict them." Accordingly, the political prisoners are not the most important obstacles anymore between Belarus and the West. This greatly increases the possibility that they will stay behind bars until the end of their terms.
Warming on the Western Front Can Help Belarus to Slip Into the Bologna Process – Representatives of the Council of Europe and the Monitoring Group of the Bologna Process have arrived in Minsk to ask questions about the readiness of Belarusian officials of higher education to join the European educational space. According to the Head of the Council of Europe's Education Department, Sjur Bergan, now "the political situation in the country is more favorable than in 2012, when Belarus was denied entry into the Bologna Process."
Belarusians' Protest Capacity Does Not Exclude New Ploscha – On the eve of the presidential elections 2015 and on the background of the Ukrainian events protest activity has increased in Belarus. These findings are contained in the annual monitoring, prepared by the Political Sphere Institute. In 2014, researchers recorded 127 protests. In comparison with 2013, the number of public actions increased by 26%, social conflicts – by 18%. The leader in the number of protest action of 2014 was Minsk.
Overview of Youth Policy and Youth Participation – Key barriers to youth participation at the policy level in Belarus are formalism, structural constraints, the lack of will of the authorities and personal factors. This is the conclusion of Belarusian National Youth Council RADA under its study conducted together with the Center for Legal Transformation. Currently the first two chapters are available: youth policy and youth participation in public and political life of the country. Chapters on youth labor and education are being prepared for publishing.
Legal Regulation of Economic Activities of NGOs – European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) present an overview of the legal regulation of economic activities of civil society organizations in Europe. The research was done at the request of the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs of Belarus and Legal Transformation Center. The research paper aims to indicate the options how civil society can independently earn money for their activities.
In Belarus there are 2,596 registered NGOs. In 2014, the Ministry of Justice registered 86 newly-established non-governmental organisations (1 international, 13 republican, 72 local), 3 unions (associations) of non-governmental organisations, 11 local foundations. In comparison to 2013, the total number of registered NGOs increased by 2.9% and to the moment reaches 2,596 NGOs. The most frequent activity among registered NGOs is sports and physical training (684 NGOs).
Freedom of Association and Legal Conditions for Non-profit Organizations in Belarus. Review Period: January-March 2015 – NGO Assembly and LawTrend prepared the document covers the most important issues in the sphere of freedom of association for the period of the last 3 months. The Monitoring includes the list of non-commercial organisations registered during the review period: namely, 23 public associations, 3 foundations and 15 non-governmental institutions were registered.
Lessons Learnt of State Social Contracting in 2014 in Belarus – ACT NGO releases key findings of the first practices of state social contracting, implemented in Belarus. In 2014, 26 regions used the mechanism of state social contracting and subsidized the NGOs from local budgets for the total amount of more than 1.8 billion rubles (about $125 thsd). The study was carried out with the support of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection.
Business, Opinion Polls, Human Rights
Top 5 Pro-Belarusian Business – Vadzim Mazheyka composes the top 5 business companies engaged in pro-Belarusian projects. The list includes, for example, Belgazprombank that made a loud exhibition project "Ten Centuries of Belarus Art", or network of gas stations A-100, which serve customers in Belarusian. The expert notes that the Belarusian business notices the popularity of Belarusian culture, and that means the latter is going beyond historical and political ghetto, and becoming a true social trend.
IISEPS National Survey in March 2015 – According to recent survey of Independent Institute of Socio-Political and Economic Studies (IISEPS), almost 40% of Belarusians believe that Belarus needs serious reforms (structural and system changes), and more than 42% agree for gradual reforms that would retain the current system. Alexander Lukashenka's electoral rating has dropped to 34.2% (almost by six percentage points compared with December 2014), due to the deteriorating economic situation.
Amnesty International Report 2014/15. The Amnesty International has released its regular report 2014/15 that documents the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories during 2014. Namely, the report states that Belarus remained the only country in Europe to carry out executions; the right to freedom of expression was severely restricted and journalists faced harassment; NGOs continued to be arbitrarily denied registration.
Five Years of Belarusian Web – Michail Darashevich, manager of Gemius in Belarus, analyses figures of Internet development in Belarus for the last five years. Namely, from December 2009 to December 2014, the Belarus online audience has risen by 65.5% or from 3.023 million to 5.004 people. The retired people group has risen from 1.28% to 5.56%; however, this is extremely little as compared to the whole Belarusian society. The number of daily users has grown from 72.70% to 82.73% of the whole Internet audience.
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-Kyrgyzstan Tensions Rise after the Murder of Kyrgyz Mobster in Minsk
On 18 February, Kyrgyz crime boss Almanbet Anapiyaev was found dead in a car boot in Minsk, an event that heated up tensions between Minsk and Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan claims that former Kyrgyz president Bakiev and his retinue are responsible for murder. Kurmanbek Bakiev fled to Belarus after a 2010 uprising in his native Kyrgyzstan, where he found refuge and received Belarusian citizenship.The incumbent government of Kyrgyzstan blames Bakiev for numerous crimes and repeatedly demanded to extradite him over recent years.
However, Minsk prefers to ignore these demands. The two countries have few economic and political ties which makes any compromise on the issue unlikely.
In 2014 Aliaksandr Lukashenka also agreed to shelter the deposed Ukrainian president Yanukovych, who preferred to stay in Russia instead. In doing this, the Belarusian head of state is showing his solidarity with other toppled dictators, understanding he may himself one day find himself in their shoes.
A High-Profile Murder in Quiet Minsk
Almanbet Anapiyaev showed up on Interpol's wanted list as a leader of organised crime in 2011. The Kyrgyzstani Ministry of the Interior accused Anapiyaev of a number of crimes of varying severity. According to them, he had allegedly built close ties with deposed president Bakiev’s family and was even appointed head of the wrestling federation “to create an informal organisation to support the Bakiev clan system”. He was also said to have engaged in intimidating opposition politicians.
A few days after his murder, Anapiyaev’s companion Gulzhigit Abdualzizov arrived in Bishkek from Minsk and surrendered to the authorities, saying he feels his life is in danger. He claims to have witnessed the murder and identified Anapiyaev's three killers, all from the Bakiev clan.
On 26 February Kyrgyzstan president Almazbek Atambayev publicly accused Minsk of sheltering the Bakiev family. Unusually for an official note, the speech was full of emotional language: "Who else do the Bakievs have to kill before Belarusian authorities will at last see the bestial and cannibalistic nature of this criminal family? Those monsters will shed blood anywhere, where they are, including Belarus, who has provided a shelter for them".
Atambayev also criticised Minsk for taking care of the Bakiev family and its repeated refusals to extradite them, calling it a “disgrace to the international image of Belarus”. The next day the Belarusian foreign ministry issued an equally unfriendly statement saying that "these kinds of overheated emotional statements cannot come out of a civilised country's leader." It also accused the Kyrgyzstani authorities of being in non-compliance with international standards of criminal justice and being incapable of protecting their own citizens’ rights.
The Russian web site Prime Crime, which studies criminal affairs in the post-Soviet space, says that Anapiayev may have been murdered as a result of a conflict between local criminal groups in Kyrgyzstan who frequently clash over drug traffic control in the country. However, the current Kyrgyz government places all the blame on the Bakiev family.
According to the Kyrgyzstani newspaper “Evening Bishkek”, the government is trying to play the Bakiev card ahead of the autumn parliamentary elections and capitalise on tensions with Belarus. As far as a motive is concerned, these angry statements erupting out of Bishkek towards Belarus would appear plausible, as the official notes appeal more to emotion than facts.
Fugitive President Sheltered in Belarus after Mass Murder
Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power as the result of the 2005 Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan. However, the former oppositional leader turned out to be as corrupt as his predecessor Akaev, and unable to promote the nation’s welfare. On 7 April 2010, a violent uprising in Bishkek ousted Bakiev, who fled to Kazakhstan with his family and retinue.
Later on, Aliaksandr Lukashenka's personal security services safely delivered them to the Belarusian capital where the Bakiev family received Belarusian citizenship. Today, Kurmanbek keeps a low profile, living in a mansion on the outskirts of Minsk, according to unofficial information.
The Kyrgyzstani government accuses Bakiev of shooting at protesters during the 2010 uprising, which left 85 people dead. However, as long as he is in Minsk, he cannot be tried. In 2010 Aliaksandr Lukashenka not only agreed to provide refuge to Bakiev, but he also stated that he supported the use of firearms against the Kyrgyzstani opposition. "If the authorities cannot defend themselves and their people – what kind of authorities are they?”, he said.
Meanwhile, Bishkek seems to be satisfied with taking advantage of a remote public enemy in their domestic political games. As the two countries have few economic ties or other interests, Kyrgyzstan does not feel it is obligated to manage bilateral ties in a more congenial manner. However, as Kyrgyzstan seeks membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, Belarus may influence its accession perspectives due to Bishkek's harsh rhetoric.
Why Belarus Harbours Toppled Dictators
Aliaksandr Lukashenka claims he saved Bakiev out of sheer mercy. “I called him and asked what was going on, and he started to cry. He said they were not friends, but was asked to save at least his children". He confessed in an interview to Ksenia Sobchak in June 2014 to saying he would save his whole family.
In June 2014, the famous Ukrainian prank caller Vovan managed to get through to Lukashenka on the phone and pretended to be Yanukovych's son. He was inquiring whether Lukashenka could provide shelter to Yanukovych should the need arise, and received a positive response.
Lukashenka, apparently, has a sense of solidarity with leaders deposed by a “revolutionary mob”. Despite his rhetoric, he is clearly concerned. The vast security measures that the Belarusian leader has put in place to prevent such an outcome is evidence of his underlying concern. By welcoming in other deposed leaders, he may well be hoping that in hard times he might also receive a helping hand from other like-minded heads of state.
In a recent interview with US professor Grigory Ioffe, Lukashenka openly made this point. To Ioffe's question “Provided that the regime changes in Belarus, you do not have any 'reserve aerodrome'?", Lukashenka replied: “Unfortunately yes, I do not have such “reserve aerodrome”…I sincerely think about it, but I do not bother with it too much. I hope those thugs (meaning the opposition) will not seize power”.
In 2014, Vladimir Putin, in a similar fashion, decided to harbour Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, ousted by Euromaidan protests in 2014. Post-Soviet authoritarian leaders have been building an alliance against coloured revolutions over the past decade and have even agreed to use their military union – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation – to prevent potential coups. But if oppositional powers appear to be getting stronger, the least they can do is to hide their colleagues from desperate mob.