Vyshyvanka Day, Golden Age University, Forum of Entrepreneurs – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Perspektiva`s Entrepreneurs Forum gathered over 200 participants, raised media and government attention. $170,000 was granted to NGOs via state social contracting.
International Human Rights Day is marked with series of events. Hrodna Golden Age University is recognised the best educational event of 2013/2014.
Vyshyvanka Day Festival to be held this weekend in Minsk. Cozy Town civil campaign launches in Mahiliou to engage local citizens in solving local problems. Local residents manage to cancel a construction a pig farm near Maladzechna.
CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVITIES
Forum of Entrepreneurs of Belarus took place on December 8, in Minsk. Organized by Perspektiva NGO, the forum gathered around 200 entrepreneurs representing different cities and towns of Belarus as well as representatives from the Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Taxes, and State Committee on Standardization. The main mode of the forum was discussion of the most acute and painful issues for the entrepreneurs like increase of taxes, certification, new rules of trade, increase of control and punishment from the side of authorities.
Hrodna Golden Age University is recognized the best educational event of 2013/2014. The results of people’s and expert voting were announced at the 5th Festival of Non-Formal Festival that took place on December 5-6, in Minsk. Among 47 contenders the jury identified four more significant events in non-formal education field – namely, Mova Nanova Belarusian language courses, the Minsk Third Age University (Belarusian Association of Social Workers); Green Weekend Children Festival (Ecodom) and Distance learning courses for people with disabilities 'Internet – No Barriers'.
Vyshyvanka Day 2 to be held this weekend. On December 13, in Minsk, Art Siadziba with the support of the Belarusian Union of Artists holds a Vyshyvanka Day (Embroidery Day), the second festival of Belarusian culture. From 3 pm till 10 pm the Palace of Arts will host an exhibition of traditional and modern embroidered shirts and gifts from popular brands, various products of artisans and craftsmen, as well as master classes, competitions, presentations and musical performances of the Belarusian bands.
Twelve thousand ribbons with national ornament distributed in Minsk. On December 6, on the initiative of Art-Siadziba, about 100 volunteers distributed about five kilometers of ribbon with the Belarusian ornament. According to the organizers, there were no people who refused to take the ribbon or somehow negatively spoke about the action. During the action, though, three activists were detained by police, but soon released without detention reports.
Cozy Town civil campaign launched in Mahiliou. First 200 signatures of citizens were sent to Mahiliou municipality. The campaign goal is to push Mahiliou citizens in solving local problems. The signatures are collected for the improvement of social infrastructure – construction of clinics, schools and kindergartens. The initiative is led by the BSDP party (Hramada), the BCD organizing committee, and civic initiative Public Magistrate. All in all, the leaders of the campaign plan to address the problem of 200 yards and help citizens to solve their local problems.
Around a hundred people attended freemarket in Homel. Last weekend Green Alliance and Center for Regional Development GDF organized a freemarket in Homel timed to the Day Without Shopping. The event aimed to draw attention to the issues of overconsumption in modern society.
Become an older friend: kind initiative in Minsk. For the second year the project ‘Older Friend’ is running in Minsk. The project is implemented by the Healthy Choice NGO following the example of the US mentoring program Big Brothers Big Sisters. The program selects volunteers of 18-25 years to mentor/ to be friends with children from shelters and vulnerable groups. It’s important that a young volunteer is perceived not as a potential adopter, but really as an older friend.
National Platform conference in Minsk. On December 22, Belarusian National Platform of EaP Civil Society Forum organizes a conference in Minsk. The conference has a focus on inventory and re-evaluation of the potential of the Eastern Partnership for the development of Belarusian civil society. Stakeholders from national and regional non-governmental organizations, international organizations, experts and the media are invited to participate in the event.
The Vitali Silitski Alumni Scholarship. In 2014 the CEU Belarusian Alumni Chapter launched the third year of its alumni scholarship honoring the late Belarusian scholar Vitali Silitski. The scholarship is intended to support promising students from Belarus while honoring Silitski, a brilliant scholar who from 2007 to his passing in 2011 headed the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS). The chapter hopes to raise $2,000 for supplementary scholarship awards for Belarusian students.
The Institute of Political Studies Political Sphere announces the Fourth International Academic Conference in Minsk. The conference is dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the beginning of perestroika in the Soviet Union and titled as 'Beyond the Soviet Canon: Political Resistance, Academic and Artistic Autonomy in the Late Soviet Period (1960s-1980s)'. Deadline for applications is March 1, 2015.
Legal Transformation Center announces call for applications for online course. Online course 'Non-profit organizations Law" provides an opportunity to learn a Lawtrend’s unique experience in legal regulation of NGOs, accumulated over 19 years of practical work in this area. The course is designed for law students, lawyers, staff and volunteers of nonprofit organizations, as well as all interested in the issues of freedom of association and the legal regulation of NGOs.
International Human Rights Day, December 10, was marked in Belarus with a number of thematic events. The Office for European Expertise and Communication (OEEC) and the Belarus Research Council (BRC) conducted a live panel discussion on Belarusian society’s attitude towards the death penalty under What Do Belarusian Think series. The Human Rights Center Viasna presented ananalytical report on the results of monitoring places of detention in Belarus for 2013-2014. The round table on new challenges in human rights work was held in Brest on the initiative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.
National Human Rights Community Award called the winners. Elena Tonkacheva was recognised the human rights defender of the year; Lyudmila Kozak – the attorney of the year; Elena Pankratova and the Viasna website got the award in journalism dealing with human rights issues. Traditionally, the winners are defined by nine Belarusian human rights organizations. On the same day, December 10, the prize named after Frantsishak Aliakhnovich (it is delivered to the authors who wrote book in custody) went to Ales Bialiatski, Zmitser Dashkevich, Aliaksandr Fiaduta, Iryna Khalip, Feliks Peker and Pavel Seviarynets.
Viasna launches video project Kitchen. Human Rights Centre Viasna starts the series of video programs Kitchen TV that is a peculiar ‘round table’ with the participation of contemporary human rights activists, representatives of the democratic community with the aim to discuss the most acute social issues. According to the authors, the format of kitchen allows speak freely and sincerely about the burning issues as well as find ways to act together in the present circumstances.
INTERACTION BETWEEN STATE AND CIVIL SOCIETY
Alesin released from KGB detention center. The journalist of Belarusy i Rynak and military commentator Alyaksandr Alesin was behind bars since November 25 on charges of cooperation with a foreign intelligence. On the morning of December 10, he was released. Alesin told that he was cleared of ‘treason’, now he was being charged only with cooperation with foreign intelligence (Art. 356).
Authorities decide against a pig farm near Maladzechna. Construction plans for pig farm for 100 thousand heads near the village Moisichy, three kilometers away from Maladzechna caused great controversy in society. Locals actively rejected the construction; several hundred signatures were collected against the decision. On December 1, Maladzechna Region Executive Committee held apublic hearing on this topic. As a result, the local authorities canceled the project – a pig farm will not be constructed.
Belsat TV turns seven years. Belsat TV, the first independent channel in Belarus was launched on December 10, 2007, on International Human Rights Day. Formally the channel was established by virtue of an agreement signed by the Polish Foreign Ministry and Telewizja Polska S.A. (Polish Public Television). Year over year Belsat TV’s viewership has been growing, as the channel attracts people of different age, income level and political views.
Sex shop moves into former location of evicted NGO. An online sex shop's showroom opened at the former location of Art Siadziba, a popular independent art center which seeks to popularize Belarusian culture and language and had to move to new addresses in Minsk every few months because of what is widely seen as pressure from authorities. When the landlord notified Art Siadziba that their lease contract would be terminated, it said that the premises were needed to house a sewing shop.
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 Will Start the New Year with a Wishful Budget
On 11 December, the Belarusian parliament took only 50 minutes to adopt its 2015 budget.
The rapid adoption of the budget highlights the parliament's puppet status – it could not even be troubled to hold even demonstrative discussions over the important document.
Although more than 80% of Belarusians believe that budget information should be easily accessible, even experts lack a means to analyse most of the revenues and expenses.
The adopted budget, interestingly, reveals the authorities's scepticism with regards to economic growth and it also revealed Lukashenka’s plan for election year – try to maintain the current GDP level and nothing more. Although the budget appears modest, some of items, like value of the Russian ruble or the price of a barrel of oil are extremely optimistic.
Absence of Public Debate on Budget
Unlike most European countries where it may take months to adopt a budget, the Belarusian parliament adopts it as quickly as possible. On 11 December, MPs passed the country's budget for 2015 in only 50 minutes. When the Finance Minister Uladzimir Amaryn presented the law in his 18-minute speech he also explained changes to the tax code, otherwise members would have adopted the budget even faster.
The incredible speed of the legislators has roots in their weak position in the Belarusian political system Read more
Several MPs made comments regarding the lack of money for social programmes. They also thanked their colleagues and called to take the law in the first reading, which took place shortly afterwards. In all, the House of Representatives adopted 13 bills that day.
The incredible speed of the legislators has roots in their weak position in the Belarusian political system. Few see the House of Representatives and the Federation Council, the upper and the lower chambers of Belarus's parliament, as serious political institutions. Most Belarusians do not even know a single member of parliament.
Belarus's parliament simply never holds debates over the budget because the budget itself is mainly developed in the presidential administration and the Council of Ministers, much more important institutions, where the discussion has an absolutely confidential nature. Thus, MPs simply approve whatever the others have previously approved.
An Obscure Document
According to the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, almost 60% of Belarusians believe the information provided on how the state budget is formed is basically incomprehensible. It seems that many hesitate to admit the truth to the pollsters as much in the Belarusian budget remains obscure – even for experts. The authorities present the budget just before its adoption and there are no means by which to keep track of how the money is spent, and whether or not they indeed go to their announced priorities.
|Quite aware – it is the duty of every citizen||3.8%|
|More aware than unaware||14.6%|
|Rather unaware than aware||34%|
|Difficult to answer||1.3%|
Data: Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies
For example, next year's budget has set an increase in income tax from 12% to 13%, one percentage point, that officially will go to support large families. However, the IISEPS’s analyst Aliaksandr Sasnou told zautra.by web-site that the money may not actually be going anywhere: “What if he (Lukashenka) takes the money and sends it to strengthen his gendarmerie? You can say anything you want, but no calculations have been submitted.”
Despite the fact that Belarus lacks any semblance of local self-governance, the local authorities still prepare their own budget, which only complicates matters further. The expenditures of the national and local budgets overlap, which makes them even more incomprehensible. The total sum of all budgets is called the consolidated budget. In 2015 the national budget expects to bring in $13.7bn pledged under the proposed ruble exchange rate in the budget in revenues. The consolidated budget for 2015 is $22.1 bn.
Uladzimir Kavalkin of the KoshtUrada.by, a web-site that tracks budget expenditures, told Belarus Digest that it is important not to forget about state extra-budgetary funds. The authorities create them out of the national budget and they are also non-transparent.
The Budget is Modest and Retains Little Growth…
On 11 December, Alexander Lukashenka told Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich that "the set plans for next year's economic growth is the minimum and Belarus is eager for more”. Indeed, the budget has GDP growth at only 0.5%, with a 3.6% decline in exports and sets inflation at 12% – all while increasing taxes. Although the budget has a surplus of $4 billion, this money will be spent on paying off foreign debt.
the authorities plan to assign more money to is a 50% increase for social welfare, although this is an unusually small gift for a election year Read more
The budget reflects Aleksandr Lukashenka's plans for the upcoming elections that will likely take place in November 2015. The authorities are being very careful with their economic policy in order to avoid a crisis. The only thing that the authorities plan to assign more money to is a 50% increase for social welfare, although this is an unusually small gift for an election year in Belarus. All other expenditure categories have only small increases this year. Even defence institutions, on the eve of a possible full scale war in Ukraine, have not received additional funds.
… But Even This Budget Remains Wishful Thinking
It is unlikely that the authorities will be able to achieve all they have set out to do, so they will likely need to amend the budget throughout next year. This is due to the fact that the budget already has a few areas that appear to be overly optimistic. For example, the budget has the exchange rate of the Russian ruble at RUB 43/$1 (at the time of publication $1 in Russia was worth 55 rubles) or the price of Urals oil at $83/barrel (at the time of publication a barrel of Urals cost $56).
The price of the US dollar in Belarus, with a 30% currency trading fee, is around BYR 14,500 while it should be around 11,400 next year according to the adopted budget. When one of the MPs asked the Minister of Finance whether these figures appeared realistic to him, Uladzimir Amaryn answered that "Russia has even more optimistic figures".
Even with these wishful figures, the budget of Belarus lays out a very tough year ahead. One of the deputies before the adoption of the budget said that " Belarusians could see up to a 1.5% increase in their incomes." This is likely an unrealistic estimate, as just avoiding a recession is what Belarus should really be thinking about.