Your Tomorrow, Global Belarusians Meeting, ADNaK! Winners – Civil Society Digest
City show releases final episode. First Ostrogorski Forum on Belarusian foreign policy and security. Your Tomorrow project assists in looking for a job for Belarusians who studied abroad. Vilnius hosts Global Belarusians Meeting. Art Siadziba offers assistance to BRSM in organising Vyshyvanka Day.
Imena online magazine is looking for investors. OEEC launches new educational course for female community leaders. 1,5 year and $2m donations – Belarusian Children's Hospice opens its doors for small visitors. Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections campaign starts releasing weekly reports on observations of the upcoming Parliamentary elections. This and more in the new edition of Civil Society Digest.
The City show sums up results. In the final 11th episode, The City project shows how a children pirate ship was built in Braslaŭ, the Little Prince was painted in Kamianiec and if other participants continued implementation of their initiatives. The City project was attended by 17 participants from 11 cities; attracted local resources and volunteer help for around $6,000 and mobilised over 2,000 people in project activities.
Global Belarusians Meeting in Vilnius. EESC in cooperation with partners is holding the Global Belarusians Meeting, which takes place on 29 June – 1 July , in Vilnius, Lithuania. The meeting gathered renowned Belarusian experts of Belarusian culture and identity from Belarus, Lithuania, and other countries to discuss a joint Lithuanian-Belarusian past, contemporary Belarusian culture, etc. The official opening took place at Vilnius Town Hall.
Art Siadziba offers assistance to BRSM in organizing Vyshyvanka Day. The pro-governmental Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) uses an idea of Art Siadziba CSO in its event and organises Vyshyvanka Day/Embroidery Day at the Palace of Sports on 2 July. In 2014, Art Siadziba conducted the similar event without any state support. Now CSO activists decide not to fight plagiarism but help make the event interesting.
First Ostrogorski Forum. On 29 June, the Ostrogorski Centre held a conference on Belarusian foreign policy and security. The conference featured five studies conducted in spring 2016 with grant support from the Mott Foundation and Pontis Foundation. Speakers discussed issues including Belarusian soft power in the region, Belarusian-Russian relations after the conflict in Ukraine, etc.
Your Tomorrow project was presented by the Salidarnaść Committee on June 29. The project aims to create a community of young professionals who studied abroad and willing to work in Belarus. A new project can be useful for more than 18 thousand Belarusians who received or are receiving education abroad. Surveys show that more than 50% of recent graduates would like to return to Belarus.
Solve Together: course for community leaders. Office of European Expertise and Communications (OEEC) invites grassroots leaders to participate in the educational course aimed to help female community leaders to increase their competencies in identifying and solving local problems, considering the interests of women and vulnerable groups. Priority in participation is given to women. Deadline for applications is 1 July .
Imena invites investors. The online magazine Imena/Names tells about Belarusians, who got in trouble and those who help others. During the first 2,5 months, the magazine has got 120 thousand unique users; 5 thousand followers in social networks and BYR 93m (roughly $4,700) collected in support of its heroes. The magazine requests support from its readers, in order not to depend on advertisers, international grants or subscription.
1,5 year and BYR 38.5bn (roughly $2m) donations: Belarusian Children's Hospice opened. On June 16, the ceremony of the official opening of the Belarusian Children's Hospice took place near Minsk. The hospice was built via crowdfunding, without state budget money. From July 1, Hospice will start taking seriously ill children and their parents. As a non-governmental non-profit organisation, the Belarusian Children's Hospice provides its services for free.
Business and civil society
aDNaK! announced the winners. On 30 June , an award ceremony of the Festival of Belarusian advertising and communications aDNaK! took place in Minsk. Initiated by Budzma campaign, for 7 years the festival is a communication platform that gathers professionals and beginners of the advertising market and encourages the creation of Belarusian-oriented advertising. This year Festival got 285 applications from 135 participants.
Non-food stallholders held another national forum in Minsk on 13 June. The event was hosted by Dom Moskvy (House of Moscow), a building owned by the Moscow city government. The forum was organised by a small business association called Perspektyva that campaigns against president's Edict No.222 that introduced controversial rules for non-food stallholders.
Student activists make series about Bologna Process (video). Two series are already out. The protagonist, Mr. Bologne, explains how the university autonomy works and what the quality of education is. "Belarus joined the Bologna Process on May 14, 2015 but no serious reforms have been carried out so far,” the authors of the series noted.
First report on the results of observation. The civil campaign Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections starts releasing the weekly reports on observations of the upcoming Parliamentary elections scheduled for September 11, 2016. The report of June 7-12 concludes that the current election campaign has a more favourable domestic political background as compared to last year's presidential election.
People's voting for the non-formal event of the year. More than 50 Belarusian educational projects/events are presented for people's voting within the VI Festival of Non-Formal Education, which will be held in Minsk on 7-9 July. The voting is available via social networks until July 5. The awards ceremony will be held on 8 July, at the Festival.
Mahilioŭ authorities denied registration to a local Center For Gender Studies Ruža. According to the NGO’s head, Aliena Barysava, the ban referred to an absence of gender discrimination in the country, as “gender equality is guaranteed by the Constitution of Belarus”. Therefore, equality is secured by authorised government bodies, while eradicating discrimination is allegedly beyond the NGO’s competence.
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 Plans for a Miracle: Digest of Belarus’ Economy
On 3 June 2016 President Alexander Lukashenka decided to strengthen the country's antimonopoly regulation by reforming the Ministry of Trade of Belarus.
Meantime, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are gradually losing their strength and are praying for more changes in their public administration.
Finally, оn 22 June 2016 the fifth All-Belarusian National Assembly revealed the key priorities of the latest round of economic reforms.
Institutions: Promoting Competition
On 3 June 2016 Lukashenka signed a new decree that establishes a unified antimonopoly body called the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade on the basis of the existing Ministry of Trade of Belarus.
It is intended that the new government agency will merge the functions of price regulation, formerly performed by the department of price policy at the Ministry of Economy, and antimonopoly control, formerly carried out by the Minsk city and regional executive committees.
It will regulate the activities of natural monopolies, prices and tariffs in the consumer market, public procurement, advertising and consumer protection.
According to Minister of Trade Vladimir Koltovich, the creation of a unified and independent antimonopoly body will ensure the development and protection of competition and improvement of antimonopoly legislation.
But a key task for the new state institution is protection of the internal market from unfair competition and ensuring equal access for all its participants.
However, experts such as the co-chair of the Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship Viktor Margelov doubt that the new state body will possess enough power to fight against the lobbying pressure of traditional monopolies and regional protectionism (i.e. the shielding of local authorities from competition from other regions of Belarus).
According to Margelov, a better approach lies in the creation of an independent agency subordinated directly to the president. As currently conceived, the agency appears useless considering the high incentives for the government to interfere in it.
Such a gloomy perspective should always take into account the long-standing resistance of the Belarusian authorities to structural reforms, hoping to strengthen the administrative levers of state management in the future, when the economic storm begins to die down.
State Sector: Blind-Eye Management
In the meantime, after years of direct administration of the economy and disregard for market rules, SOEs have been significantly transformed.
According to the latest data, the number of commercial organisations with a state share equals 3662. This sector contributes almost 80 per cent to the full body of industrial production, generates more than 60 per cent of the country's revenue and absorbs approximately 60 per cent of all investment in fixed capital in Belarus.
However, despite the unbreakably dominant position of SOEs in the Belarusian economy, their financial performance has started to deteriorate considerably. As a result, in only a few years the share of unprofitable SOEs has skyrocketed.
For example, in 2012 the share of loss-making organisations in the public sector was only 4.8 per cent, but in the first quarter of 2016 it increased to 26.3 per cent (see Figure below). Moreover, in the first quarter of 2016 SOEs reported net losses to the amount of BYR 3.9tn.
Another significant change is the reduction in the number of employees. In 2012, the average number of SOE employees equalled 1.7m or more than one third of the economically active population of Belarus. However, in the first quarter of 2016 it decreased by almost 200,000 to 1.5m.
Moreover, with such dynamics in the public sector, in ten years the number of employees will fall to less than one million people. Belarusian economists see the main reasons for this situation as the ineffective utilisation of financial and capital assets assigned for the modernisation of SOEs.
Taken altogether, the government has only three choices: to close the inefficient enterprises, to sell them without any terms attached or to find ways to increase the effectiveness of state administration.
Economic Policy: Disclosing the General Plan
On 22 June 2016 Lukashenka while speaking at the fifth All-Belarusian National Assembly announced several reforms.
First, a reduction in state administration and an increase in salaries for officials at the local level.
Second, accelerated development of high-tech industries in the next five years, including microelectronics, laser, bio – and nanotechnologies, and the production of precision mechanical engineering.
Third, creation of more than 250,000 new jobs mostly at small and medium-sized enterprises, to coincide with simplification of the tax payment system.
Fourth, an increase in the protection of Belarusian economic interests in economic organisations like the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and European Union (in many cases Belarusian representatives in the EEU have not prioritised national interests).
Fifth, competitive allocation of financial resources to take into account primarily the recoupment of capital investment.
Finally, a significant improvement in relations with the EU and the United States will be pursued in order to diversify markets for export promotion (the key task for the future is the full normalisation of relations and the conclusion of a basic agreement between Belarus and the EU).
The government therefore has a long to-do list for the next five years if it is to increase competition and effectively manage SOEs. However, one question remains: is the time span of the current economic crisis enough to come true above economic changes?
Aleh Mazol, Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)
This article is a part of a joint project between Belarus Digest and Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)