West 2017 in focus, London Conference on Belarusian Studies, human rights dialogue – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In August and September, Ostrogorski Centre analysts analysed developments around West 2017 military drill, progress in the Belarus-EU dialogue on human rights and increase in poverty in recent years as well as the government’s response to it.
The Centre announced call for proposals The Third Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies, which will be held on 23–24 March 2018 at University College London.
We have also added new profiles to belarusprofile.com and new policy papers to Belaruspolicy.com databases.
Siarhei Bohdan demonstrates how approaches to West 2017 military drill varied in Belarus and Russia. The Belarusian government struggled to reassure its neighbours, who continued to express concerns about the drills. Lukashenka himself repeatedly visited Ukraine to persuade Kyiv of Belarus’s peaceful intentions.
In contrast, the Kremlin craved an intimidating military show. Thus, Minsk and Moscow were jointly holding an exercise which both countries saw in very different ways. It is unsurprising that their policy regarding West 2017 was vastly different.
Ryhor Astapenia discusses the growth of poverty in Belarus in recent years and the government’s response to it. One of Lukashenka’s greatest achievements in Belarusian society has been his fight against poverty. However, poverty is once again on the rise.
The main reason people end up below the poverty line is the loss of employment, as the state fails to provide any meaningful help for the unemployed. It seems that poverty is doomed to continue spreading, as the authorities see no way out of the crisis other than shifting the country’s economic woes onto the backs of the poor.
Igar Gubarevich analyses the development of the Belarus-EU dialogue on human rights. Belarus hopes to put human rights issues on the back burner in its relationship with the West. At the same time, the country’s authorities understand that avoiding any discussion of this subject could hamper the modest rapprochement between the two parties.
Meanwhile, the West continues to put pressure on Belarus in international human rights bodies, in particular the UN Human Rights Council. Only time will tell which of the two policies – dialogue or critical monitoring – will prove more effective in instigating democratic change in Belarus.
The Third Annual London Conference ‘Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century’
The Belarusian Studies in the 21st Century Conference Committee, the Ostrogorski Centre and the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum invite proposals from established academics and doctoral researchers for individual papers and panel discussions on contemporary Belarusian studies. The conference is a multidisciplinary forum for Belarusian studies in the West.
Proposals will be considered on any subject matter pertaining to Belarus. This year, however, proposals relating to human rights, social media, education, the history of the Belarusian People’s Republic, Belarusian history and culture and sociology are particularly encouraged. A selection of peer-reviewed papers will be published in the Journal of Belarusian Studies in 2018.
As in previous years, in addition to the conference, which will be held 23–24 March 2018 at University College London, several other Belarus-related events will take place in London. The 2018 conference will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic, the first modern attempt of Belarusian statehood, as well as the 10th anniversary of Belarus Digest.
To submit a paper or panel proposal, please complete an online registration form by 15 December 2017. Successful candidates will be notified by 5 January 2018. The working language of the conference is English.
There is a £10GPB registration fee associated with the conference. You may pay the fee at the door or pay online (see the registration form for details). If a speaker or delegate is unable to pay the registration fee, the organisers can grant them a waiver. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for a fee waiver.
The organisers can provide non-UK based applicants with invitation letters for visas.
For any questions, please contact either Stephen Hall or Peter Braga at email@example.com.
Conference co-chairs: Professor Andrew Wilson and Professor Yarik Kryvoi
Comments in the media
Ryhor Astapenia on Polish Radio discusses the hype around the West 2017 drills, the future of mass youth political organisations, and the possibility of political and social protests this autumn.
Siarhei Bohdan on Polish Radio explains why Belarus refused to transport oil products via Russian ports even at a 50% discount. Russian ports require longer delivery time; Belarus has experience in the Baltic countries and invested in their infrastructure; in addition, it is one of the channels of cooperation with the European Union.
Alesia Rudnik on Polish radio discusses the effectiveness of civil campaigns in Belarus on the example of Asmaloŭka area protection. This became not the only success story of local activists, but usually victory is possible only if the project is not essential for the authorities. In most cases, civil campaigns fail.
Siarhei Bohdan on Polish Radio discusses the role of Russia and China in the development of the Belarusian defense industry. Last year Belarus exported arms worth $1 billion. This achievement is the result of complicated partnerships with major players. Russian support of Minsk in the defense industry is limited and expensive, therefore Minsk had to to seek an alternative and develop cooperation with China.
The BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following people: Alieh Dvihalioŭ, Jury Šuliejka, Mikalaj Korbut, Vitaĺ Paŭlaŭ, Uladzimir Karpiak, Andrej Dapkiunas, Alieh Dziarnovič, Valieryja Kasciuhova, Piotr Rudkoŭski, Natallia Vasilievič.
We have also updated the profiles of Siarhiej Hurulioŭ, Anatoĺ Isačenka, Ivonka Survila, Paviel Uciupin, Anatoĺ Kapski, Victor Prokopenia, Aliaksandr Pazniak, Jury Chaščavacki, Siarhiej Čaly, Kanstancin Šabieka, Aliaksandr Šamko, Aliaksandr Šumilin, Uladzimir Šymaŭ, Aliaksiej Jahoraŭ, Aliaksandr Jarašenka.
The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update its database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:
- Poverty and vulnerable groups in Belarus. Consequences of the recession of 2015-2016. IPM Research Centre, 2017.
- Uladzimir Kavalkin, Andrei Sushko. Electronic public procurement: evaluation of official electronic trading sites in Belarus. BIPART, 2017.
- Proposal of changes to the Law on Arms. Belarus Security Blog, 2017.
- Iryna Tačyckaja. Indicators of Belarus export activity in the 1998-2016: what are the chances for growth? IPM Research Centre, 2017.
- Hinnerk Gnutzmann, Arevik Gnutzmann-Mkrtchyan. The trade effect of Generalised Scheme of Preferences removal: evidence from Belarus. BEROC, 2017.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by emailing us.
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.
War games, integration of integrations, EBRD investments – Belarus state press digest
Alexander Lukashenka states that the West 2017 drills proved successful and that attempts to discredit them were extremely unprofessional. According to the Belarusian MFA, a block mentality must become a thing of the past; the country refuses to make a choice between East and West.
Belarus is about to become the largest potash producer in the world. The government is in the final stages of preparing laws aimed at developing entrepreneurship. The EBRD claims it has reached a ‘strategic level of cooperation’ with Belarus and is considering new investment projects.
This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.
Politics and security
On 20 September the joint Belarusian-Russian strategic exercises West-2017 came to an end. Alexander Lukashenka was personally in charge of the final stages of the event and later answered journalists’ questions, published by Belarus Segodnia. According to him, the exercises have achieved the goals they set out. Both the armed forces and the territorial defence system of the country were improved.
Responding to the fact that the presidents of Belarus and Russia observed the manoeuvrers separately, Lukashenka replied: ‘Well, if the shell hits one place, both of us will be gone at once … We agreed that since the main phase was to take place here, while very large exercises were also held in the Leningrad Region, the President of Russia will monitor the drills in the north, and me in the centre.’
As for speculations that Russian troops would stay in Belarus after the exercise ends, Lukashenka promised he would gladly comment on this after all the troops return to their places of permanent deployment. Yet it is already clear that this attempt to discredit the exercises was extremely unprofessional.
Belarus calls for a union from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Narodnaja Hazieta quotes a speech by Belarusian deputy foreign minister Alieh Kraŭčanka at the Minsk Dialogue conference dedicated to the future of the Eastern Partnership. The fact that Belarus maintains a strategic alliance with Russia does not mean that it is avoiding developing relations with the European Union and the United States. This block mentality must become a thing of the past; the country refuses to choose between East and West.
The EU and the EEA should begin technical dialogue aimed at harmonising standards and solving existing problems. After a summit in Brussels in November, Belarus expects a more pragmatic Eastern Partnership, by which it means better access to European markets, simplification of customs relations, and further development of infrastructure facilities.
The Second European Games will give a ‘powerful ideological impulse to Belarusian society’. The largest sports event in the history of Belarus will take place on 21-30 June 2019, reports Narodnaja Hazieta. Preparations for the event include significant development of sports infrastructure: development of Dynamo stadium, which will turn into a multifunctional complex, a new building for the Republican Scientific and Practical Sports Centre, the Centre of Gymnastics and a multi-field game gym, and a new 25-level dormitory in the Student Village.
Despite Belarus’s experience of hosting other international competitions, the organisers of the Games are expecting it to be a serious challenge. Belarus has seen no event of this scale: about 11,000 participants will come to the forum. As president Lukashenka pointed out, ‘The European Games should give a powerful ideological impulse to our society, consolidating the nation even more … We must bring the nation, the country, and the state to the highest stage of development, and the Games should do a lot achieve this.’
The government is in the final stages of preparing laws aimed at developing entrepreneurship among citizens. The government will submit a total of 10 documents for the President’s consideration by 1 October, reports Belarus Segodnia. These documents seek to promote self-employment and improve living conditions in small and medium-sized settlements.
Alexander Lukashenka recently met with the country’s ministers to discuss the first three laws; he generally approved them. These laws would go far to facilitate the process of opening and managing businesses. In particular, they would expand the list of businesses that citizens can open without registration, paying only a single tax.
Belarus will soon become the largest potash producer in the world. Currently, the state-owned potash company Belaruskali is working on the construction of two mining and processing plants, called Petrykaŭ and Liubań, along with the currently operating Starobin plant. The company estimates the volume of potash at the Petrykaŭ deposit to be 2.2 billion tonnes, writes Respublika. This will be enough for production of 1.5 million tonnes yearly for about 90 years. After the commission of the new ore-dressing plants, Belarus will become the largest potash producer in the world.
According to Ivan Halavaty, following the break with the Russian company Uralkali in 2013, Belaruskali and the Belarusian Potash Company gained prestige among buyers and producers worldwide. ‘They are self-sufficient companies that can carry out their activities independently. Therefore, I do not consider a new alliance with the Russian company necessary’, he said.
EBRD has reached a ‘strategic level of cooperation’ with Belarus. Aliaksandr Lukashenka met with the President of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, Suma Chakrabarti, to discuss the EBRD strategy for Belarus for 2016-2019. It includes expansion of operations in the public sector and assistance in the implementation of infrastructure projects. The EBRD could participate in the organisation of the southern transport corridor in Belarus.
The Bank already has experience in supporting road construction projects, one of which is the modernisation of the Hrodna-Minsk highway. Now, the Belarusian government is discussing the construction of a wider highway in the south of the country to attract commodity flows from China, Central Asia, and Russia. In the near future, the bank plans to invest up to €200m in Belarus and, in particular, to become a shareholder in Belinvestbank.
Police advocates restriction of alcohol sale hours. The Ministry of Internal Affairs wants to ban the sale of alcohol at night not (in stores only), but also at gas stations, writes Sielskaja Hazieta. Alieh Karasej, Head of the Department of Prevention of the Ministry, recently revealed sad statistical findings: 80% percent of murders and incidences of grievous bodily harm are committed in a state of intoxication. Family members and relatives of alcoholics are the primary victims. However, compared to figures from ten years ago, the situation today has improved somewhat. Previously, 300 relatives of alcohol abusers perished annually, while today the number stands at about one hundred.
The state press digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.