What to Expect in EU-Belarus Relations – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Analysts focus on the effect of recent elections on the politic landscape of Belarus and whether the European Union can do anything to improve the situation in Belarus.
The EU and Belarus: Perpetual Tango All Over Again? Giselle Bosse, European Policy Centre, analyses EU-Belarus relations to identify where next for EU policy towards Belarus. The expert makes some recommendations for the situation's improving.
In particular, the EU could be more speciﬁc about the goals of its policy and respectively knows the answers on some key questions, for instance, what is the EU longer term goal: to push Lukashenka to introduce reforms, or regime change?
Belarus Plays Cat and Mouse with EU – EUobserver fixes the fact of the recent releasing of two Belarusian political prisons – Siarhei Kavalenka and Pavel Syromolotov – and considers about the reasons of the authorities’ step. The edition quotes Belarusian Tribunal, a Dutch-based NGO, which claims that Kavalenka's release is an attempt to bargain with the EU to ease the sanctions.
Powerless Over Belarus – Euronews tries to find an answer whether Brussels will toughen its stance against Minsk following the latest result of the parliamentary elections. To get more insight on the political state of affairs in Belarus, the reporter spoke to Olga Stuzhinskaya, the Director of the Office for Democratic Belarus based in Brussels.
EU Poised to Extend Sanctions Against Belarus After Elections (for subscribers only) – The European Voice reports that the EU will be watching parliamentary elections in Belarus on Sunday (23 September) with a sense of uncertainty about how to adjust its policy towards its eastern neighbour after another year of clashes with the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The EV also gives reference to the think-tanks Carnegie Europe, IISEPS, and BISS quoting their vision of the current situation, as well as, mentions the Brussels-based Office for Democratic Belarus burglary.
Europe does Not Want a Revolution, but a Soft Transformation in Belarus – Kamil Klysinski, analyst of the Center for Eastern Studies (Warsaw), a specialist in Belarus, shares his reflections on the political situation in Belarus. In particular, the expert sees a strong authority and a weak opposition, which can not even properly communicate with the public and force the ruling class to the negotiations. At the same time, both for the European Union and Belarus the most appropriate scenario is soft reforms (dialogue), the only way to prevent chaos.
Belarus’ Foreign Policy Index, #9, July-August 2012 – Belarusian Institue for Strategic Studies presents a new issue of the Belarus’ Foreign Policy Index, covering the developments of July and August 2012. This period is marked by a serious drop in the intensity of relations. In the Russian sector the experts point a nearly two-fold drop in the Index; the development of relations with the European Union is again in the negative part of the chart.
Diary of Dale Cooper, or How I spent the Last Month Watching ONT – Yanina Melnikava, mediakritika.by, during the month daily watched programs of the state TV channel ONT with a purpose to understand its specifics. The expert analyzes separately entertainment dwell, advertising, news and concludes that the modern Belarusian television journalism is "a dangerous mix of "news parquet dance" and the burning state propaganda".
Belarus. Accents. #56 – Liberal club released its weekly information-analytical monitoring of Belarusian and foreign electronic media during the period September 10-16. Monitoring covers the main topics of cultural, economic, legal, business spheres as well as public administration. In particular, the authors note that inflationary potential of the country remains at a high level. In the case of a new round of economic crisis, inflation can quickly outstrip the planned 19%.
Bulletin PISM No 87, September 20, 2012 – The monthly bulletin of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) is dedicated to Belarus, specifically to pre-election situation and named "Election without choice". The experts note that the campaign in the run up to the parliamentary elections highlighted the lack of dialogue between the authorities and society. It also underlined the problems of the Belarusian opposition, i.e., the internal divisions and the lack of resources required to conduct political agitation.
It is high time to replace selfish and short-sighted opposition leaders – Vladimir Matskevich, Chair of the EuroBelarus Consortium Board, argues that the main reason for the continuing feud between supporters of the boycott and the parliamentary elections’ participation is the low political culture of the Belarusian opposition.
Will Belarusian NGOs’ leaders go to the polls? – On the eve of the parliamentary elections, EuroBelarus Information Service addressed to a number of NGOs’ representatives to know whether they are going to go to the polls for the upcoming parliamentary elections and what do they justify their actions with. Among respondents there are Andrei Kazakevich, "Palіtychnaya sphera"; Dzianis Melyantsou, BISS, Enira Bronitskaya, the Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Sergey Mackiewicz, the Assembly of NGOs, etc.
Working Papers of the First International Congress. Working materials of the First International Congress of Belarusian researchers were published at the website of Political Sphere. Remind the Congress took place on September 23-25, 2011 in Kaunas (Lithuania) and was attended by about 200 scientists from different countries. This year, II Congress of Belarusian researchers which was held on September 28-30, in Kaunas and was attended by over 300 people.
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.
The Rise and Fall of Affordable Housing in Belarus
Whether you arrive in Minsk from the airport, bus or railway station, one of the first things you notice is abundant construction. You will see construction sites almost everywhere.
New shiny office buildings of glass and concrete grow in the centre. On the outskirts you’ll mainly see multistory block residential houses. Subsidised loans is one explanation of this boom.
A sad truth here is that Minsk seems to be the only place in Belarus where life is really bubbling. Growth of other Belarusian cities is slow and continues thanks to strong urbanisation processes and migration. In rural parts of the country population is decreasing dramatically ‒ up to 4% during 2011, and the state encourages people to move to rural areas by offering free housing in newly constructed buildings.
Rush for Flats
Population growth rate in Belarus has been negative already for many years. But demand for improvement of housing conditions never stops. In Minsk it is, for sure, the greatest. Flats, however, cost no less than in many Western European capitals. And Belarusians with their less than $500 average monthly salary are usually unable to satisfy housing needs independently. That is probably why within the last five years over 60 per cent of new flats were built with state support.
Before 2011 subsidised loans were the main form of state support. Those who managed to prove their compliance with special criteria such as being a large or young family, living in a dorm for over than 10 years could get such loans.
State support recipients were getting loans for construction of new flats at annual rate of 5% (sometimes even 1%) for the period of up to 40 years. In the meantime, even before the economic crisis of 2011, Belarusian rouble’s inflation varied around 10-12%.
Mock marriages, large families for the pure sake of getting loans became an unspoken part of Belarusian reality. Compared to 2006 the official list of people in need of housing conditions’ improvement in 2012 increased by more than 50%. By 2012, however, this state generosity started to crumble.
Justice à-la Belarus
Destructive effects of Belarusian social programmes on its financial situation have always been manifest to those who understand economics basics. Thanks to the 2011 economic crisis the sad consequences became clear even to Belarusian authorities. In June 2011 banks suspended approval of new subsidised loans.
Subsidised loans reappeared only in April 2012 after the president cut the list of state support’s addressees more than twice. About 400 families had to say goodbye to their dreams of better housing conditions. Those who managed to benefit from subsidised loans suffer as well.
Lukashenka ordered to unmask the lessors of flats acquired thanks to state aid and to take such flats away from them. The society has quickly divided into two parts in relation to the issue. Some people consider the president’s threat to be just: the state should bring the cheaters to responsibility. Others argue that such deprivation would be illegal.
In a country with developed rule of law and respect for private property the latter position would probably prevail. Belarusian law does not provide for taking any flat away if it is rented. Consequently, any deprivation on these grounds is impossible. But Belarus is the country where the president rules. If he decides to implement his “just” idea, that will not take a long time.
We Are Where We Live
As a result of the need to build many flats in Minsk quickly the absolute majority of new houses are block houses. Affordability of block houses’ flats is one of the most important reasons of their popularity. Such buildings usually have no special decoration and are very similar in their design. What is even worse, many are build close to historical buildings in the centre of Minsk depriving it of its old European charm.
Many blocks of flats look similar. Getting to a newly built outskirts region reminds Minsk residents of a popular Soviet comedy where one drunk person confused his own flat in Moscow with another flat in Leningrad – the only difference between houses was their addresses. The only novelty about today's block houses is the multitude of their colours.
At the same time foreign investors have recently started to finance construction of improved comfort buildings. The advantages of their outer and inner design are obvious and citizens consider them as a desired escape from their accommodations’ uniform.
However, because Belarusians still have a rather low purchasing power, realtors forecast that sale of the improved apartments may take up to 7 years.
Incubator architecture is common not only for Minsk residential houses. Belarusian agrotowns is another bright example. For sure, it was Lukashenka who introduced the village paradise with urban benefits. Since 2005 about 1500 such towns have grown in the whole country. The cost of each of agrotown amounts up to $1 mln.
Some agrotowns appeared from scratch, others developed in the already existing settlements. But irrespectively of their history and geographical location, all agrotowns look the same. As with blocks of flats the main difference is addresses and colours.
These new buildings are supposed to attract young professionals to Belarusian villages. If they decide to move to the rural area, they can get one of such houses for free. However, lower salaries and lack of career opportunities in rural areas make young university graduates less enthusiastic about agrotowns.
Young Belarusians prefer to struggle for a small flat in a huge block of flats in Minsk rather than get a separate house in rural area for free.