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
Education event in Minsk, call for London conference, Belsat, Astraviec NPP – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In December, analysts of the Ostrogorski Centre discussed Belarus' vote at the UN General Assembly, ongoing tension between Belarus and Lithuania over the Astraviec NPP, and the situation of Belsat TV.
On 13 December the Ostrogorski Centre and the Embassies of the Netherlands and Poland organised a conference on education as a human right in Minsk.
The Ostrogorski Centre, the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum announced a Call for Papers for the conference ‘Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century’.
The 4th Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference: Education As A Human Right
On 13 December 2016 Minsk hosted the 4th Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish Conference. This year, the topic was: 'Education as a Human Right: Modernising Higher Education to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century'. The conference was organised by the Ostrogorski Centre in cooperation with the Embassies of the Netherlands and Poland.
As with other conferences co-organised by the Ostrogorski Centre, it brought together people with different views and backgrounds to engage in respectful dialogue. The speakers included representatives of educational institutions from the Netherlands, Poland, and Belarus, as well as Belarusian government agencies and NGOs.
The event focused on three key topics: the challenges of Belarus's accession to the European Higher Education Area, improving business education, and making education more accessible through distance education.
Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century: a Call for Papers
The Ostrogorski Centre, the University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies (UCL SSEES), and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum is calling for proposals from established academics and doctoral researchers for individual papers and panel discussions on various aspects of contemporary Belarusian studies.
The conference will take place on 25 February 2017, at UCL SSEES. On 27 February, a special event will be hosted by the British Library organised in cooperation with the National Library of Belarus and the Belarusian Embassy in London to celebrate the anniversary of Skaryna’s Bible.
The 2017 conference will coincide with the 500th anniversary of the first Bible written in old Belarusian. Francis Skaryna’s translation of the Bible, published in Prague in 1517-1519, was the first printed book in the whole of Eastern and Southern Europe and carries immense significance for Belarusian identity. Submissions devoted to Skaryna’s legacy are particularly welcome this year.
Submissions are requested by 10 January 2017, more information can be found here.
A Belarus Digest editorial argues that supporting Belsat is in the real interest of Warsaw and Minsk. The Polish Foreign Ministry has recently announced that it is considering closing down Belsat, the only Belarusian language channel available online and via satellite across central Europe. Without the active pro-democracy and pro-independence minority in Belarus, which is sustained partially by Belsat, the prospect of Belarus being entirely swallowed up by the Russian world could become even more real.
Ryhor Astapienia discusses whether Belarus can punish Lithuania for its position on the Astraviec NPP. Belarusian officials have hinted several times that Lithuania benefits significantly from the transit of Belarusian goods, so the Lithuanian government should soften its position on Astraviec. Nevertheless, it seems that Belarus will continue to use Lithuania as a transit country – this remains an economically expedient option. Nevertheless, it will also try to diversify supplies.
Igar Gubarevich analyses Belarus's vote at the UN General Assembly. It shows that Minsk pursues a much more independent foreign policy than most observers believe. The positions of Minsk and Moscow differ in almost a quarter of all issues. At the same time, the Belarusian government does not cross certain red lines defined by the Kremlin. The Belarusian delegation would never vote for a resolution condemning the Russian government.
Comments in the media
Igar Gubarevich analyses the three main obstacles to Belarusian-Polish relations improving on Polish radio: delay of local border traffic, the schism of the Polish minority in Belarus, and the Card of the Pole.
Also on Polish radio, Ryhor Astapenia comments on the revival of Polish-Belarusian relations. According to Ryhor, a dominant view in Belarus, Russia, and Poland is that through rapprochement with Poland, Minsk is trying to strengthen its western flank in foreign policy. In doing so, Belarus wants to demonstrate independence in decision-making.
On Polish radio, Igar Gubarevich analyses the visit of a high-level EU delegation to Minsk. According to Igar, the two sides currently maintain a comprehensive institutional dialogue, but true normalisation of relations has yet to occur, as evidenced by the lack of highest-level visits. At the moment, Belarus and the EU are seeking points of contact, putting aside issues of human rights and democracy.
Siarhei Bohdan discusses Belarus's border policy on Polish radio. The situation on the southern border of Belarus remains at risk of arms penetration and crime, but in two or three years the entire southern border will be closed with the help of EU funds. Meanwhile, Russia closed its border with Belarus for citizens of third countries for purely political reasons, as a punishment for Belarus, Siarhei argues.
The BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following people: Valier Malaška, Natallia Nikandrava, Dzmitry Krupski, Aliaksandr Makajeŭ, Uladzimir Karahin, Vasiĺ Hierasimaŭ, Anatoĺ Isačenka, Andrej Žyškievič, Andrej Dzierach, Voĺha Ščerbina,
We have also updated the profiles of Ihar Karpienka, Aliena Kupčyna, Aliaksandr Kosiniec, Vadzim Hihin, Aliaksandr Milinkievič, Aliaksandr Lahviniec, Anatoĺ Husaraŭ, Lieanid Šeniec, Eduard Paĺčys, Ivan Liemiašeŭski, Viktar Ščaćko, Natallia Kačanava, Maksim Ryžankoŭ, Kanstancin Martyniecki, Juryj Čyž.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update the database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
Andrei Yahorau, Aliona Zuikova. The role and place of civil society in the system of donor aid for Belarus (2006-2014). CET, 2016.
Aliaksandr Chubryk. KEF-2016 "Reforms for engaging growth": key findings and recommendations. IPM Research Centre, 2016.
Dzmitry Kruk, Katsiaryna Barnukova. The anatomy of recession in Belarus. BEROC, 2016.
Alena Artsiomenka. Factors of reproductive choice of Belarusians. BISS, 2016.
Uladzimir Akulich, Yulia Yafimnenka, Viktoryia Smalenskaya, Uladzislau Ramaniuk, Alieś Aliachnovič, Sierž Naŭrodski, Katsiaryna Alieksiatovich, Yaraslau Mialhui. The seventh issue of the Macroeconomic Review of Belarus (January-September 2016). CASE Belarus, 2016.
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.