Youth Internet TV, Vitali Silicki, Lukashenka on Political Prisoners – Belarus Civil Society Digest
The most notable civil society events in Belarus include Avangard launching the first Youth Internet TV in Belarus. Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden to Belarus Stefan Eriksson became honorary chairman of the AD.NAK! jury. Tell the Truth and For Freedom joined the National Platform of EaP CS Forum. NGO Assembly are preparing for the VII Congress. A new think tank, the Belarusian Analytical Centre, was presented in Warsaw.
As far as political developments are concerned, Aleksandr Lukashenka warned against granting pardon to convicts during the coming amnesty campaign on politically motivated grounds. US President Obama extended sanctions against Belarusian officials for another year.
Vital Silicki memorial evening held in Minsk. Minsk’s Ў Gallery hosted a memorial evening for the first BISS Director Vital Silicki on the day of the obit, June 11. Vital’s friends and colleagues shared their memories of the globally renowned political researcher in a very warm atmosphere. The Silicki’s intellectual heritage and the memorial event had significant media coverage.
Minsk youth NGO "Avangard" has launched the first youth Internet TV in Belarus. The creative team of A-TV.by shoots and posts on the website video blogs, reports, coverage of "Avangard" events, as well as live broadcasting of the most interesting events in Minsk.
New think tank. On June 14, Belarusian Analytical Centre was presented in Warsaw. The initiators of a new think tank are sociologist Andrei Vardamatski, political scientist Pavel Usov, economist Leonid Zlotnikov. The Center presented its report on the geopolitical orientations of the Belarusians. The Centre plans to become self-sustaining through the sale of its products.
NGO "Ponimanie" Endowment. The Endowment of the International NGO “Ponimanie” made up $17,000 due to donations of foreign partners. The NGO “Ponimanie”/”Understanding” sees its mission as professional and voluntary participation in the establishment of the humane world, suitable for all children to happily live in.
New members joined the National Platform. The civil campaign "Tell the Truth" and the movement "For Freedom" made the decision to sign a memorandum on cooperation under the National Platform of EaP Civil Society Forum, as well as to join the National Platform. The new members are going to coordinate their activities with other CSOs more closely.
Oleg Gulak elected again. On June 8, in Minsk, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee conducted a report-election meeting. Oleg Gulak was again elected the BHC Head.
Stefan Eriksson became the honorary chairman of the jury AD.NAK! Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden to Belarus Stefan Eriksson agreed to be jury head of the nomination "Social significant projects in the arts and culture" of the Third Festival of Belarusian-language advertising and communications AD.NAK! The jury also includes well-known experts in the field of advertising and communications, in particular, Andrei Ezerin, communication agency Ezerin'com; Zhanna Grinuk, Centre SATIO; Anna Chistoserdova, Art Gallery "Ў"; Nina Shidlovskaya, cultural campaign "Budzma Belarusians!"; Marina Zolotova, webportal TUT.by, etc.
EHU celebrated 20th anniversary. The European Humanities University in Vilnius conducted an activities-filled International Week dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the founding of the University. In particular, EHU gathered more than 200 current and former faculty, alumni, students, staff, supporters, and friends of EHU gathered at historic Vilnius Town Hall for celebration.
Training on video journalism. Online magazine "New Europe" announces a set for the training on video journalism, which will be conducted by qualified Belarusian and foreign experts. The main focus of the training is the preparation of TV reports. The organizers invite to participation representatives of independent media, online media, working with video content.
The Congress of the Assembly. On June 16-17, VII Congress of the Assembly of pro-democratic NGOs will take place in Minsk. The organizers plan to gather the Assembly members to discuss the prospects of the development of the largest umbrella network which includes of about 300 CSOs.
Lukashenka: There should be no amnesty on politically motivated grounds. On June 12, Alyaksandr Lukashenka warned against granting a pardon to convicts during the coming amnesty campaign on politically motivated grounds. Lukashenka described amnesty campaigns as real manifestations of humanity on the part of the state toward people who have erred. According to the interior ministry`s press office, some 2,800 people may be freed from prison under the amnesty law this summer, while more than 7,000 more prisoners are to have their terms shortened by one year.
ILO to discuss situation in Belarus at November meeting. Violations of trade union rights in Belarus will be discussed by the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) at its meeting in November, Alyaksandr Yarashuk, chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU), told on June 14.
EU delegation meets with opposition politicians. On June 12, a delegation of the European Union`s European External Action Service (EEAS) met with a group of opposition politicians in Minsk. EEAS representatives were interested to study prospects for the development of what the EU calls the European dialogue on modernization and the political situation in the country ahead of September`s parliamentary elections. The meeting was attended by former presidential candidate Vital Rymashewski; Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the "Spravedlivy Mir" (Just World); Andrey Dzmitryyew, a coordinator of the "Tell the Truth!"; Belarusian Popular Front leader Alyaksey Yanukevich, etc.
Obama extends sanctions against Belarusian officials. On June 14, U.S. President Barack Obama extended the sanctions, which were imposed against Belarusian officials on June 16, 2006, for another year. This was reported in the White House.
Belarus ranks 109th in 2012 Global Peace Index. Belarus ranked 109th in the 2012 Global Peace Index (GPI), a measure of global peacefulness produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The GPI gauges ongoing domestic and international conflict, safety and security in society, and militarization in 158 countries by taking into account 23 separate indicators.
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.
David Marples: the Nation Built on the World War II Myth
Professor David Marples the University of Alberta who was banned in April from travelling to Belarus is finishing his new book on historical memory and World War II in Belarus.
At an Anglo-Belarusian Society event in London last week, he was speaking about the "military" mentality of the Belarusian society, the nation-building process in Belarus, and the West's policy against Lukashenka’s regime, including sanctions and the ice hockey championship.
The Canadian historian and political scholar has long been known as one of the best Western experts on Belarus and already published several books including the most recent "The Lukashenka Phenomenon: Elections, Propaganda, and the Foundations of Political Authority in Belarus" (2007). Last year, he became the president of the North American Association of Belarusian Studies.
"First time I visited Belarus in 1992, and since then I travelled to the country every year," says Marples. However, this April the researcher was denied a Belarusian visa. "That was the first time I applied to the Belarus consulate in Canada, but not in the US. The explanation he received from the embassy was very brief: "You have been denied entry to the Republic of Belarus. Best wishes, Igor."
Marples apparently ended up on the black list of foreigners who were denied entry to Belarus Read more
Marples ended up on the black list of foreign politicians, public figures, human rights activists and scientists who were denied entry to Belarus. In contrast to the official list of Belarusian officials who are banned to travel the EU countries, Lukashenka’s regime imposes restrictions quietly and secretly. Marples himself assumes that officials of the embassy were just afraid to issue a visa the man who could cause some problems in the current political relations between Minsk and the West.
For the last three years, Marples has been studying historical memory and World War II in Belarus. In other words, the historian examines how the state’s control over historical memory in Belarus affects formation of the Belarusian nation.
While collecting the data for his book, Marples travelled across Belarus extensively, met a wide range of people, and studied Belarusian sources. From the catalogues of the National Library of Belarus, he learned that as many as 1,500 book titles on WWII were published in Belarus between the years of 2005 and 2010. "It is a huge figure," says the researcher.
He highlights that an anti-Soviet sentiment is gaining strength in both Baltic States, and Ukraine (especially the Western part). Crimes of the Soviet regime have become exposed, and those who stood against the Communists are glorified as national heroes. Belarus demonstrates a totally different trend. "The Great Patriotic War" is the defining element of historical memory and the basis for the formation of modern collective identity in Belarus," Marples points out.
the regime is seeking to fulfil nation-building process on the basis of political rather than ethnic principles Read more
According to the researcher, Lukashenka is trying to build the nation around the thesis of the Great Victory over the Nazis gave Belarusians freedom and independence. Moreover, the regime is seeking to fulfil nation-building process on the basis of political rather than ethnic principles.
The historical experience of the "first Belarusian state" the Grand Duchy of Litva (Lithuania) along with national values such as the Belarusian language are defiantly ignored. On the other hand, Lukashenka’s ideologists attempt to rehabilitate Joseph Stalin and to level crimes of the Soviet regime which damaged Belarus more than any other Soviet republic.
Marples emphasises that even the current rulers of Russia have condemned Stalin's repression and paid tribute to the victims. Lukashenka has not done anything like that for 18 years of his reign. On the contrary, Belarus authorities use the tragic events of 1941-1944 (according to different calculations, Belarus lost from one third to one forth of its population due to WWII) to replace the monstrous crimes of the totalitarian system in the public memory.
Memorials and monuments to Soviet heroes, state-financed film production, the shift of the Independence Day’s date, rewriting of school textbooks are all designed to strengthen the propaganda which is a very close in its nature to the Soviet one. Moreover, says Marples, the regime uses WWII issues as a weapon against political opponents – Lukashenka calls the opposition "collaborators" and "public enemies" – and means for positioning its geopolitical interests – "brotherly Russia" and a hostile image of the West and NATO.
the Soviet military myth will dominate in the collective consciousness of the Belarusians as long as Lukashenka stays in power Read more
David Marples predicts the Soviet military myth will dominate in the collective consciousness of the Belarusians as long as Lukashenka stays in power. At the same time, he does not think that the majority of Belarusians believe the history of their country began in 1944. But many still do not know who they are. It takes time to implement a new consolidating myth based on national and democratic values in the collective consciousness of the nation."
Will Belarus survive without its mother tongue?
In his most famous book "Belarus: A Denationalized Nation" Marples wrote, “For Belarus, national development without the native language, especially under the shadow of a much larger Slavic neighbour with a lengthy historical tradition as an empire, was virtually impossible.” Is there any future for a sovereign Belarusian state without the Belarusian language as the core element of the state’s ideology?
“I think it is possible. First of all, on the ground of civic nationalism," answers Marples.
He is convinced that the pursuit of national movement put the issue of Belarusian language in front of the democratisation process was premature in the early 1990s. Even the fact that the Belarusification of started with an absence of all necessary teaching materials, it did not contribute to its promotion among the population. As a result, the Belarusian Popular Front’s leader Zianon Pazniak is still seen as a radical and a threat to all Russian speakers in the collective consciousness of Belarusians.
I am impressed by the number of people who use Belarusian language on the Internet and social networks Read more
However, the researcher believes that there are no reasons to "bury" the Belarusian language. "I am impressed by the number of people who use the Belarusian language on the Internet and social networks. This is mostly a younger generation of the 1990s," he says. But in order to seriously improve the prestige and the popularity of the Belarusian language in Belarus, political conditions are needed.
"Every Canadian knows that it is impossible to build a career in government system without knowledge of two languages - English and French. Belarusian parents should also know that the Belarusian language, which their children learn in school, will be needed in the university and for further career."
Why do the Western sanctions harm?
According to Marples, an interest in Belarus has increased significantly in the West over recent years. Moreover, researchers and experts represent a wide spectrum of opinions: from the policy of tough sanctions against the Lukashenka’s regime and its isolation to the maximum possible dialogue with the official Minsk. Marples himself believes that the strategy of sanctions regarding Belarus is harmful, because it isolates the Belarusian society and pushing the country towards Russia.
The former British Ambassador to Belarus Brian Bennett who was also present at the Anglo-Belarusian Society event disagreed: "This is Lukashenka who isolates Belarus, not we. He wants to benefit and to keep a distance from both the West and Russia at the same time."
"Yes”, replied Marples, “but there are many layers in the Belarusian society with whom we should speak and whom we should help. Recent studies of IISEPS show a decrease in pro-European and the growth of pro-Russian sentiments in the society because Belarusians do not see any real help from the West."
I am looking forward to thousands of foreigners flooding the lonely Minsk airport Read more
The researcher adds he is sceptical about the campaign aiming to suspend plans to hold the 2014 Ice-Hockey World Championship in Belarus. "I am looking forward to thousands of foreigners flooding the lonely Minsk airport.”
He points out the more contacts, information, and experience exchange will take place between Belarusians and the West the more chances Belarus will have to become a part of the civilized world.
This article originally appeared in Belarusian on svabodaby.net.