Why Is the Eastern Partnership Dead? Map of Reforms, Talaka, Greenmap – Belarus Civil Sociey Digest
Foreign policy of the European Union in Eastern Europe and the possible future of the Eastern Partnership were debated in Minsk this week.
Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) under the REFORUM project announces a call for national experts to develop proposals for reform in the fields of direct foreign investment and education. Map of reforms of law civil society organisations and a draft law on charity were discussed.
Why the European Union's foreign policy is failed, and is the Eastern Partnership dead? On 8 September within the framework of the European Intercultural Festival, Belarusian political scientists and EU-based researchers discussed EU foreign policy in Eastern Europe and the possible future of the Eastern Partnership.
A series of live debate entitled What Do Belarusians Think starts on 26 September. The series aims to publicise expert debates and create a space where facts and evidence matters. The first debate, focusing on research conducted on reforms, will take place on 26 September in the IMAGURU Minsk business club. There will be a live online broadcasting of the event. The project is implemented by the Office for European Expertise and Communication, in partnership with the Belarus Research Council with the support of Pact/USAID.
Belarus Reality Check. The 4th Belarus Reality Check meeting, organised by Pact, the East European Studies Centre and LATO, with the support of Latvian MFA and USAID, took place on 11 September. The meeting focused on Belarus-Russia relations, the upcoming presidential elections and relations between Belarus and the West. Policy reviews based on three previous Belarus Reality Check meetings are available here.
Mediation Week in Belarus. On 13-19 October Belarus will host a Mediation Week dedicated to the International Conflict Resolution Day. The central event of the week will be the First National Forum of Mediation on 15 October where mediators, judges and lawyers will discuss the prospects of mediation in the country. Among the organisers are the Belarusian National Bar Association and the Centre for Mediation and Negotiation with the support of the Ministry of Justice.
ACT invites the public to discuss a draft law on charity. ACT NGO has drafted a concept for the Law ‘On Public Benefit’ as an instrument to regulate philanthropy and sponsorship in Belarus. ACT's goal is hold an open discussion of the concept for public organisations, experts and all interested bodies. The first workshop is to be held on 26 September.
A single map of reforms in CSO legislation to be created. On 18 September in Minsk, the Assembly of pro-democratic NGOs and the Legal Transformation Centre organised a roundtable, set to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Law ‘On Public Associations’. Participants discussed the possibility of creating a single map of legislative reforms in the interests of civil society that could serve to promote tactical coordination between lobbying initiatives to improve the legal conditions for CSOs.
Student Leadership Academy. The Centre for the Development of Student Initiatives (CDSI) announces the start of the Fall 2014 session in the Student Leadership Academy. The Academy will offer students of Belarusian universities a series of educational seminars in all of the regional capitals of Belarus, as well as a chance to implement their own project ideas. The courses will be held between September – December 2014.
Civil Society Campaigns
Talaka.by collects ideas from Minsk residents. On 13 September the Talaka.by initiative collected from Minsk residents more than 130 ideas for the interactive map project Lets' Improve Minsk by Talaka/Together. During the day passers-by provided more than 80 ideas and suggestions to improve the lives of citizens, and more than 50 local challenges to solve.
Third Capacity Building Fair to be held in Minsk. On 31 October the third time Capacity Building Fair is set to take place in Minsk. Organised by the Capacity Building Marketplace, the Fair will present the Belarusian market of organisational development services for CSOs. This year an annual popular event will become a true market where customers (CSOs) will have real money to pay for services of consultants. To provide CSOs with real purchasing capacity, the Marketplace announced a call for CSOs to get pre-approved vouchers and make deals with providers directly at the Fair.
Don't be Silent in Belarusian cards. The idea of the project belongs to a young artist Daria Mandzik, a winner of the Budzma campaign contest of cultural ideas. The cards are handy guides for anyone who is interested in the Belarusian language and want to speak Belarusian on basic daily topics. The cards are can be found at Budzma’s events and in bookstores.
1514 Board Game released. On 8 September at the Logvinau book shop, the PRAS art studio presented the 1514 board game. This interactive game seeks to promote Belarusian history and is dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Orsha.
Flying University programme announced. On 9 September the Flying University presented a new programme of study for the 2014-2015 academic year. Anyone interested can sign up for various lectures, six different schools and any of the five seminars offered by the Flying University before 25 September.
REFORUM calls for experts. The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), under the REFORUM project, announced a call for national experts to develop proposals for reform in the fields of direct foreign investment and education. BISS invites research teams and expert groups, think tanks, as well as individual experts to participate in the project. Two thematic expert groups will be composed from the candidates selected.
Social Weekend 4. On 10-30 September Social Weekend 4 is accepting applications from everyone who is interested in changing the world for the better and wants to participate in a lottery grants totaling more than 100 million Belarusian rubles (about $9,500). Proposals should be related to education, culture, charity, health, etc. All ideas will be posted on the contest page for the public to vote on and expert evaluation.
International Mobility Week. The Green Alliance, in partnership with Minsk Urban Platform, has announced the second annual Mobility Week, which will take place on 16-22 September in Minsk, Brest, Gomel, Grodno and Baranvichi. This year’s slogan of the Week is “Our streets – our choice”. The organisers will offer everyone interested the chance to attend to lectures by international urban development experts, films screenings, competitions and take part in city tours. Throughout the week, Belarusians will have access to the Green Telephone hotline, where they can call regarding urban environmental issues.
Eco-friendly life style for young moms. The Centre of Environmental Solutions has announced online courses for young mothers on how to live an eco-friendly life. The 7-week course covers such issues as green consumption, energy efficiency, chemical safety and other topics and will utilise a variety of learning tools, such as lectures, forums, and video material. Anyone interested may sign up until 15 September.
Twelve Belarusian cities are cleaning their streets every weekend from 13 September to 12 October, as part of the global campaign To Make! The campaign has no single focal point: anyone can organise his/her own group of volunteers and clean up any area of the city. This year it is easier to join the campaign: all scheduled cleaning points can be found at greenmap.by.
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.
1939 in Belarus: National Reunification or Soviet Occupation of Eastern Poland?
On 16 September local authorities closed an exhibition entitled “West Belarusian Atlantis” in Zaslauye near Minsk. The author of the project, Ihar Melnikau, dedicated the exhibition to Belarusians in the Polish army in the 1939 Polish-German campaign and to everyday life in Polish-ruled Western Belarus.
The exhibition effectively propagated the notion of a Polish-ruled Western Belarus as a legitimate and more human alternative to Soviet Belarus. The state official who closed the exhibition purportedly said that the exhibition denigrated the Soviet Union, hence it denigrates modern Belarus.
Belarusian society is split on what happened on 17 September 1939 when Soviet troops entered what was then Eastern Poland. For some this day signifies the unification of western Belarus with the rest of the country. Others underscore that that all Belarusians effectively ended up under Stalin's totalitarian rule. Positive and negative attitudes toward 1939 unification exist throughout the political spectrum.
Media Coverage of 17 September: Nothing or Negative
Between the World Wars Belarusians were divided. The Eastern half formed its own Soviet republic, underwent Belarusisation, but also experienced an era of violent modernisation and political violence. Western Belarus remained split among various Polish provinces and while undeveloped, it faced less political violence.
In Western Belarus, Belarusians officially became a minority, marginalised in every respect of the word and by 1939 they did not have a single school in their own language. As WWII broke out and the Polish state collapsed, the Soviet Union sent its troops to modern day western Belarus on 17 September 1939.
streets were named after 17 September and people who fought against the Polish state Read more
Among other official holidays, 17 September has always been in the shadow of bigger Soviet historical dates such as Victory Day or October Revolution Day. Still, it was a part of the official calendar. Each September Soviet Belarusian media discussed "Polish repression" and "Soviet liberation." Films were produced about the topic and streets were named after 17 September and people who fought against the Polish authoritarian regime.
Today's Belarusian state takes another line. This September top Belarusian officials were silent on 17 September. State-controlled media – Belarus Segodnya, BelTA or Zviazda – did not dedicate a single article to the topic. Opposition-minded Eurobelarus.info exclaimed in its headlines, "Why is the Government Forgetting the Anniversary?"
The closure of Melnikau's exhibition was the only move the Belarusian state made to defend 17 September's memory. This decision was made by Ruslan Trukhan, an official of the Minsk Province Executive Committee, and it was likely his own initiative. Interestingly, before the exhibition opened the First Channel of Belarusian state TV praised its opening on a news programme.
The provincial and Zaslauye officials hesitated to openly confront the issue. First, they underscored the ideological controversy surrounding the topic. Indeed, some of Melnikau's interpretations bring up several questions – like when he talks about “Belarusian regiments” in the Polish army in 1939, although it is well known they did not exist.
Yet then the authorities dropped their ideological arguments and halted the exhibition, justifying it by saying that a renovation project for electrical system in the museum about to commence.
Was Soviet Belarus a Fake State?
Many opponents of the Belarusian government are rather active in their criticism of 17 September. They dismiss Soviet Belarus as a "fake state" or even a Soviet occupation of Belarusian lands. In Soviet Belarus, they say, Belarusians were only to suffer from political repression.
Hence, Belarusians gained nothing from its reunification and the population of Western regions post-1939 faced harsher economic conditions. "In 1939, the Soviet Union became larger, not Belarus," is a phrase one hears again and again in these kinds of discussions.
Professor Alies' Smalanchuk lamented, “life in interwar Poland was hard. Yet the problems there could never be compared with how it was in the villages of Soviet Belarus.”
Belarusians had missed possibly its greatest opportunity in 1939 - an alternative path than that of reunification under Stalin? Read more
Nasha Niva weekly regularly told its readers that Belarusians had missed possibly its greatest opportunity in 1939 – an alternative path than that of reunification under Stalin. Some mysterious Belarusian activists allegedly planned to rise up and establish a Western Belarus Republic. Moreover, the same newspaper claims that the Nazis were considering establishing a Western Belarusian protectorate.
The only exception to this dismissive mood concerning reunification can be found in some commentary by Vital' Cyhankou for the Belarusian Service of RFE/RL. He advised in a joking manner, “One can easily stop every discussion about 17 September 1939 with one question: Do you oppose a twofold enlargement of Belarus' territory?”
The critics of 17 September claim to debunk Soviet myths, yet they also create new ones. They say that life was better under Polish administration and support their statements with anecdotal evidence. But one can hear all kind of anecdotes about the Polish administration and Soviets, as is true for virtually every major political event. For instance, one such story is how the Soviets brought tractors for agriculture which astonished Western Belarusian who tilled their plots without any machinery under Polish rule.
As a matter of fact, socioeconomic indicators and development rates speak in favour of Soviet Belarus. The only – if undoubtedly serious – exception to this trend was the level of political repression, which was undoubtedly much more severe in Soviet Belarus. Unlike in Western Belarus under Polish rule, it had no ethnic character, Belarusians both participated in persecutions and suffered from them.
Does the Public Appreciate Unification?
The subsequent World War and Nazi occupation diluted the public's memory of 17 September. Still, enough people held grievances against the Communist government which brutally carried out its modernisation programme and stripped many people of their social privileges and property.
After all, Western Belarusians had a weak national consciousness to begin with and placed little value in national reunification. They preferred their small and inefficient plots of land, which were their own afterall, to the Soviet Union's reunification, modernisation, education or 'better off together' dogma with of its related persecution.
RFE/RL journalist Zmitser Bartosik produced a series of programmes on recollections of reunification from people who experienced it in 1939. According to him, typically positive attitudes towards reunification were found in people whose their parents (who were usually teachers) were brought up conscious of their being Belarusian.
All in all, 17 September 1939 will remain a divisive issue in society. What was, in fact, more important: to achieve national unity or avoid the mass political violence of the Soviets? What should be prioritised: the interests of the nation or the grievances of individuals who lost their property, posts or became victims of political persecution? This dilemma has no easy solution.
The opponents of 1939 Belarusian unification can discuss the possibility of a peaceful and democratic unification but the historical reality shows that this is but wishful thinking. Belarusians were too weak then to unify in any other way.
Generally, divided nations rarely have the chance to unify at a time of peace (think of Vietnam, Armenia or Yemen), or unify at all (think of Koreans or Azeris). Belarusians got their chance, and it is no wonder that the date of 17 September 1939 will always have its proponents.