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Category: Issue 5 2018

Issue 5 2018: What’s new with Belarus?

It often seems, at least from the outside, that Belarus remains isolated from the West and very static in its transformation. Yet, despite its relative isolation, Belarus is indeed changing.

September 2, 2018 - New Eastern Europe

Softly, softly Belarus

One might not notice it, but certain changes are taking place in Belarus. This may be good news for European policymakers and diplomats who seek to engage Belarus and keep it balanced in its relations with Russia, as long as expectations are not kept too high.

Belarus is changing. It is changing in ways that help European engagement. But, to be clear, the area where change is minimal is probably the one where Europeans want to see the most improvement. This is the political sphere. The label “Last Dictatorship in Europe” may be out of date, but Belarus is not about to become a democracy any time soon. What is driving change is the concept of sovereignty. First is the logic of sovereignty, which has been operative for some time; but often belated or delayed by political factors, namely Belarus’s formerly close relationship with Russia. Second is the threat to sovereignty since the situation in Ukraine from 2014; though partly this threat can be traced back to the war in Georgia in 2008.

September 2, 2018 - Andrew Wilson

The EU should take Belarus more seriously

An interview with Balázs Jarábik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Interviewers: Iwona Reichardt and Daniel Gleichgewicht of New Eastern Europe

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: You recently attended the high-level Minsk Dialogue Forum. Among the speakers was Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. How do you interpret his participation in this event that gathers international experts and representatives of the third sector? What kind of message did he intend to send to the wider world?

BALÁZS JARÁBIK: The most important thing was the fact that he attended a civil society conference. As far as I am aware, this was his first such occurrence. It certainly illustrated how the attitude of the regime is slowly changing vis-à-vis civil society in Belarus. Currently there are several interesting areas internally where co-operation is moving and where the government is beginning to understand the value of civil society.

September 2, 2018 - Balazs Jarabik Daniel Gleichgewicht Iwona Reichardt

A Belarusian house of cards

In the early stages of the system transformation, the division of the Belarusian political elite into the ruling-elite and counter-elite was more symbolic than a reflection of reality. Today, both demonstrate the features of the Homo post-Sovieticus, fitting into the post-Soviet model of political culture. However, while Lukashenka’s transformation and authoritarian modernisation have gained public support, the model promoted by the counter-elite has proved ineffective.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the political elite played a key role in the process of systematic transformation within post-Soviet territories, including Belarus. The first years of the country’s independence marked a very important stage when the nature of establishing the political elite determined the further course of political, economic and social developments. It was the activities of the elite and counter-elite (i.e. the opposition) that influenced the dynamic of socio-political changes in Belarus.

September 2, 2018 - Maxim Rust

Belarusian culture: national, European, post-Soviet

I dare say the Soviet cultural project is unlikely to survive in Belarus for another 20 years. The fact that there are artists working in Belarus today who represent the European or national layer of Belarusian culture is a result of the disintegration of the earlier mechanisms.

In June 1987 a group of enthusiasts wanted to prepare an exhibition at the Vitebsk regional library in Belarus. It was dedicated to Marc Chagall – a native of Vitebsk who was widely recognised in the West. However, in that summer attitudes towards Chagall in his hometown was somewhat ambiguous. First of all, a large exhibition of his art had been earlier held in Moscow. Secondly, a well-known magazine Ogoniok (Огонёк) had already published his work which aimed at rehabilitating the artist.

September 1, 2018 - Victor Martinovich

A change from within

Belarus is said to be Europe’s last dictatorship. Yet, even in this post-Soviet state there are people who are changing the country from the inside: bringing authorities to account, fighting to reduce the consumption of plastic and re-designing the public spaces together with local residents.

Walking along Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci, the main avenue in Minsk, it is easy to imagine yourself back in the Soviet Union. The avenue, built in the 1950s, spans 15 kilometres with vast spaces and Stalinist architecture. But do not be fooled by the first impression. A 15-minute walk from the city centre to Kastryčnickaja Street will bring you to quite a different Mink: one with building walls full of colourful graffiti, hipster fast-food restaurants and Berlin-like bars. Even though it might not be obvious at first sight, Minsk has changed a lot in recent years and many of those changes are thanks to its active citizens.

September 1, 2018 - Natalia Smolentceva and Varvara Morozova

Oppositionists or dissidents?

An interview with Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a Belarusian journalist and political analyst. Interviewer: Zbigniew Rokita

ZBIGNIEW ROKITA: I have a feeling that the Belarusian opposition has never been as weak as it is right now…

ALYAKSANDR KLASKOUSKI: I agree. In the 1990s the opposition was capable of bringing 30,000-40,000 people to the streets. At that time they could also influence the masses and cause some fear among the authorities. Today things are different. There are maybe a few dozens of people that come to protests; this is thousands times less than two decades ago. The opposition has almost no influence on Belarusian politics, let alone economics.

September 1, 2018 - Alyaksandr Klaskouski Zbigniew Rokita

Hello, generation Lukashenka

Thousands of Belarusians are now coming of age but have only known one leader of their country. Little is known about the Lukashenka generation. But these are young people who soon will determine its country’s future. A recent online video depicts a young man playing the piano accompanied by a singer who performs in Chinese. The interior of the room has a rather solemn appearance: the camera pans to a framed photo featuring the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife in the company of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his youngest son Kolya – the same person playing the piano. After the song, the teen stands up and reads out a prepared text in Chinese. In February this year, the Belarusian ambassador to China posted the video on Twitter calling Kolya “the most famous Belarusian teenager in China”.

September 1, 2018 - Hanna Liubakova

Exclusion in Belarus: pieces of discrimination

Discrimination in Belarus has its peculiarities and nuances. But in general, its origins lie within the common attitudes of the patriarchal world where people are still divided into a “majority” and “minority” group.

In April this year, one of the schools in Gomel, a city in the south-eastern part of Belarus, hosted a meeting of residents at the residential building number 18. The issue that brought the people together was the total lack of facilities for those with special needs. Andrey Antonenko, a resident, uses a wheelchair and needs a platform stairlift to leave his apartment. The day before the meeting, 106 people voiced their opposition to the installation of the stairlift in the main entrance hall of the apartment bloc.

“And how are we to live?! How are we supposed to move furniture?” the neighbours asked resentfully. “And the noise? That thing will make noise!”; “How much space will it take up?”

September 1, 2018 - Tanja Setsko

Energy independence should be priority

Since independence, Belarus has not been able to overcome its total dependence on Russian energy supplies. With the construction of a Belarusian nuclear power plant, this dependence will only become stronger.

As is well-known, Belarus purchases crude oil from Russia and so far has earned good money from it. It imports Russian oil without any tariffs, and only after exporting the processed oil does it generate export duties, which are then transferred to its own budget. Prior to 2015 Belarus had transferred it to the Russian budget, but since the announcement of the implementation by the Russian Federation of the "tax manoeuvre" in the oil industry, Minsk requested compensation for its costs, mainly due to the ratification of the treaty on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). As a result, Moscow agreed to allow export duties on oil products from Belarus to be transferred directly to the Belarusian budget through 2024.

September 1, 2018 - Tatiana Manenok

Little change in the Belarusian economy

For years the Belarusian economy has faced the same challenges. The main input to state coffers comes from a few gas enterprises and the military industry, while many branches of the economy remain ineffective. Heavy dependence on Russia is also a serious problem. The only cure is structural reforms. Yet, seemingly there is no political will for their quick implementation.

According to official projections, Belarus is to reach 3.5 per cent GDP growth this year. Less optimistic is the forecast of the IMF which believes growth will be at only 0.7 per cent. The National Bank of Belarus, in turn, assumes inflation will not pass seven per cent. Regardless of the source, the predicted growth is not going to result in any form of structural change to the Belarusian economy. Rather it will be a reflection of global economic prosperity and higher gas prices.

September 1, 2018 - Anna Maria Dyner

Between declarations and reality

Is Ukraine ready to regain control of the occupied part of Donbas?

Ukrainian officials are often under fire from critics due to their inefficiency in defending Ukrainian citizens in the occupied parts of Donbas. Unfortunately the criticism is deserved. Despite the creation of the ministry for the temporary occupied territories in April 2016, it is very difficult to find any positive results since its inception. Creating a ministry of information policy has not improved access to independent information. Even the rebuilding of damaged television towers and the building of new ones has been implemented very slowly and without any real success.

September 1, 2018 - Paweł Kost

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