West-2017 smaller than NATO drills, loan from Russia, future of Minsk – Belarus state press digest
Belarusian military officials insist that Belarus has never accused anybody of aggression despite the fact that the West-2017 military drill will be smaller that that of NATO in Poland. Read more
Belarus sees a significant shift towards exports of raw materials over the past two decades, especially in trade with the EU. Russia receives interest from loans to Belarus at twice the rate of investments in US debt obligations.
Minsk mayor reveals development plans: the city will become denser, but without major increase in malls and hotels. This and more in the new edition of the Belarus State Press Digest
Foreign policy and security
Lukashenka meets with top security officials. On 5 September, President Alexander Lukashenka held a meeting with the Security Council, writes Zviazda. He inquired about the results of the season’s harvest, the problem of receivables, and the situation surrounding West-2017 exercises. Officials reported that harvesting went without major problems due to the good work of law enforcement bodies.
Foreign distribution networks now owe more than $500m to Belarusian companies, and the government is now trying to find solutions to this problem. Regarding West-2017, Lukashenka stated that ‘We have a joint army group of Belarus and Russia pointed in the western direction and we need to train it to fight. But we are not going to attack anyone’.
West 2017 military drill will be smaller that of NATO in Poland. First Deputy Minister of Defence Alieh Bielakoneŭ revealed details of the West-2017 military exercises, which were published in Belarus Segodnia. In order to prevent tension in relations with neighbouring countries, the authorities chose to hold the drills far from the state border. The total number of military personnel involved will reach 12,700; the drills will also involve 370 armoured vehicles, up to 150 artillery units, multiple launch rocket systems, and more than 40 aircraft and helicopters.
Bielakoneŭ noted that all major parameters of last year’s multinational NATO exercise, Anaconda-2016, exceeded those of West-2017. Furthermore, the upcoming NATO drill – Dragon 2017 – will be held in Poland in a month and will feature a total of about 17,000 soldiers. Despite these facts, Belarus does not accuse its neighbours of aggressive behaviour.
Belarus wants to engage in extraction of Afghanistan natural resources. For most Belarusians, Afghanistan does not enjoy a positive image, and the official visit of Afghan Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah to Belarus in August did not attract much public attention. However, an economic partnership with this state could be highly profitable, explains Narodnaja Hazieta. Afghanistan possesses natural wealth – mostly in the form of metals – worth almost a trillion dollars.
However, due to the country’s mountainous desert terrain, absence of infrastructure, and lack of professional staff, extraction projects will require tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars of investment. Belarus will not be able to compete with big players there and would do well to work in tandem with countries such as China or India.
Belarus has become a raw material economy. Over the last six months Belarusian exports have increased by 19.4% compared to the same period in 2016, reports Respublika. However, growth occurred only due to services – mainly computer and transport – rather than goods: while goods gave a minus of $1bn, services brought a plus of $1.4bn. According to a study by the IPM Research Centre on the export performance of Belarus in 1998-2016, the country has seen a significant shift towards export of raw materials.
80% of exports to the EU consist of fuel, timber, chemical products and metals; even these exports are steadily declining. While in Belarus raw materials and consumer goods dominate exports (51% of total volume), in Hungary and the Czech Republic capital and intermediate goods account for 55% and 58% of sales to foreign markets.
Russia repays Belarusian debt. Recently, the Russian government approved the allocation of a $700m loan to Belarus to repay a previous debt. Soyuz asked Russian analyst Kirill Koktysh what this would mean for the country. According to him, this is a regular debt restructuring. The fall in oil prices caused a decrease in export income in both Russia and Belarus, but due to the smaller size of the latter’s economy, Belarus took a greater hit.
Finding new sources of income will take some time. For example, a significant increase in Belarusian agricultural production has become visible only now, although the government has been investing in it heavily for many years. Meanwhile, the credit history of Belarus remains flawless, and Russia received twice higher interest from loans to Belarus than the interest from the money invested in US debt obligations.
Belarus needs a population strategy. In 2016, for the first time in 20 years, Belarus saw an increase in population. The country has one of the lowest levels of maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. However, about 63% of Belarusian families remain single-child families. However, for a nation’s population to grow, most families need to have three children.
The number of women of childbearing age is decreasing, while teenagers dream of pleasure, career, travel, and high salaries rather than a large family. More than one hundred institutions provide assistance to mothers and children, and the state has developed a proper family support system, so now the government needs to gently correct the attitudes of young people towards reproduction, writes Belarus Segodnia.
Minsk will become denser, but without major increase in malls and hotels. Andrej Šorac, the mayor of Minsk, told journalists at Belarus Segodnia about development plans for the Belarusian capital. The city will not be expanding outwardly, instead opting for infill: using empty, inefficiently used, and industrial areas inside the Minsk ring road. The mayor expressed scepticism about the future of the so called satellite towns around Minsk, which were supposed to attract city dwellers. Developers will not invest in them as long as possibilities to construct housing inside Minsk remain.
The city has also approached its limit for retail trade zoning and hotels per capita. The idea of removing car traffic from the city centre and making it pedestrian should be considered carefully, as the Belarusian mentality requires comfortable and effective transportation. Nevertheless, some streets will certainly become restricted for cars, the mayor said.
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.
Harassment against lawyers, Congress of Belarusian Studies, IdeaLab – Belarus civil society digest
Belarusian human rights defenders agree on joint principles of human rights work. Statkievič released after 5 days in jail. MOJ denies registration of United Civic Party’s women’s branch. BAJ assesses openness of governmental institutions for journalists.
24-hour carnival completes Vulica Brasil Urban Art Festival. Golden Age University in Hrodna opens enrollment of senior students for 9th round of informal education and activism program..
7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies releases its agenda with almost two dozens academic sections.
This and more in the new edition of Belarus civil society digest.
Principles of human rights work in Belarus released. Over 70 Belarusian human rights activists took part in the creation of the document to avoid contradictions between the people involved in the protection of human rights. The document presents a set of professional and ethical principles determining the requirements for human rights defenders and their professional activities and open for accession.
Human rights activists alarmed over new wave of harassment against lawyers. The Ministry of Justice reportedly ordered an extraordinary certification of a number of lawyers, which may void the licenses of some of them, including those involved in politically motivated cases. According to HRC Viasna’s Head Alieś Bialiacki, the pressure is related to the authorities’ fear of possible social protests.
Opposition activist Mikalaj Statkievič released after 5 days in jail, on 31 August. It was not ruled out that he would stay in jail for 15 more days for the protest action that took place in Minsk in July. This way, he would miss the street protest scheduled on 8 September.
The Justice Ministry again refused to register a UCP women’s organisation. Gender Partnership, which is the women’s organisation of the United Civil Party (UCP), applied for registration in the form of a public organisation. This was not the first attempt to register.
Human Rights Situation in Belarus: July 2017. According to the monthly monitoring of HRC Viasna, in July, there were cases of administrative penalties, including the detentions. At the same time, there were a number of positive developments like the 4th round of the EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels and the parallel Civil Society Forum in Minsk on the eve of the 26th Annual Session of the OSCE PA.
BAJ assessed openness of governmental institutions for journalists. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) survey, the most open state bodies are the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Court system, and the Ministry of Sports and Tourism. The least open institutions in the country are the Operative and Analytical Centre at the President, the Ministry of Information, and the KGB.
1st Belarusian media hackathon IdeaLab will be held on 7-8 October. During a two-day event, journalists and civic activists will work together on media projects. Professional journalists, infographers, and designers will help to project teams. IdeaLab is organised in the framework of the joint project of the IBB School of Journalism, Practical Competences Studio NGO, the Third Sector Centre NGO and others.
24-hour carnival completes Vulica Brasil festival. On 2 September, the gala Carnival on Oktyabrskaya street in Minsk closed the 4th Urban Art Festival Vulica Brasil/ Brazilian Street. The festival was held from 17 August to 3 September and traditionally added new murals from Brazilian graffiti artists to the streets of Minsk. The festival’s initiator is the Embassy of Brazil in cooperation with a number of Belarusian civil initiatives.
(Not)Shot Poetry project launches open lectures. On 1 September, the music portal Tuzinfm.by organises the first of 12 weekly lectures dedicated to outstanding Belarusian poets, shot on 29 October 1937. The lectures are held under (Not)Shot Poetry project that has also released a music compilation of 12 songs on the lyrics of the poets, killed in the Stalin’s era.
DranikFest in Mahilioŭ. Organised by the Centre for Urban Initiatives for the third time, the fest of national Belarusian food – potatoes’ pancakes (draniki) will be held on 30 September, in Mahilioŭ. To participate in the competition part, one needs to gather a team of 2-5 people and has a bag of potatoes. The fest also includes an entertaining program with live music, dances, and games.
Local and green activism
Golden Age University recruits for 9th round. Starting from 2010, the program of non-formal education and civic activity is open to Hrodna residents of 55+. The agenda includes over 40 different courses, public lectures, and integration activities. Traditionally, the University is organised by Practical Competencies Studio/Third Sector Centre NGO (Hrodna).
Hackathon of social projects. On 16-17 September, The 10th Social Weekend contest invites to take part in Hackathon aimed to develop non-profit projects useful for society. The prize fund is $2,500 and the opportunity to get directly to the semi-final of Social Weekend 10. The previous social Hackathon gathered over 200 participants and generated 60 ideas.
Good Neighbor. The Office of European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) is launching a series of workshops with activists who will share their experience of solving local problems in various fields. The first event is held on 12 September, in Minsk and dedicated to the eco-friendly entrances and yards. The project is implemented with the support of the U.S. Embassy Small Grants Program.
II International Cycling Festival is held on 19-20 August near Minsk. The festival aims to support the development of cycling in Belarus and unite representatives of the cycle industry, Belarusian cycling organisations and initiatives and just fans of two-wheeled vehicles. The event is designed as eco-friendly. Organisers are the Velodisko project and the Minsk Cycling Society.
7th International Congress of Belarusian Studies releases agenda. The agenda includes almost two dozens of sections on topical issues of Belarusian politics, culture, and society. The Congress is an annual meeting of Belarusian and foreign scholars and experts, involved in studying Belarus. The 7th Congress will be held on 15-17 September in Warsaw, Poland and expects up to 600 participants.
7th International Conference in Economics and Finance took place in Minsk on 26 August. Organised by the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), the annual conference has become an important event stimulating economic research and professional discourse on the problems in the economy not only in Belarus but also worldwide.
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.