What Contribution Can Belarusian Diaspora Make to the Development of the Country?

On November 17, 2016, Minsk hosted a round table to discuss global migration trends and international experience of diaspora representatives participating in the development of their own home countries. Participants of the discussion - representatives of CSOs, business, education, international organizations – analyzed the "waves" of Belarusian migration and prospects of the national diaspora participating in economic and cultural development of Belarus, as well as modern approaches to promoting “Belarusian identity” in various countries of the world. 

The discussion was organized within the framework of "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator" programme implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union “New Faces” and Public Association of Belarusians of the World “Homeland”, with support from the European Union.

Round Table "Belarusian diaspora", November 17, 2016, Minsk 

CAN DIASPORA BRING INVESTMENT?

According to Gerd Junne, professor at TNU Network University, Ireland can serve a good and inspiring example of diaspora participating in the country's development. People have been migrating from this small island nation for centuries, coming in multiple waves. Many generations of the Irish who travelled all around the world and the current generations of their descendants have never seen their land. Recently, the Irish government has implemented a comprehensive and in a way revolutionary cooperation strategy: welcoming all representatives of the diaspora who wish to re-establish links with their homeland, even after decades. 

Gerd Junne, TNU Network University

Ireland is the first country to have created a high-level group of more than three hundred influential Irishmen living abroad. De facto, this group is an extension of diplomatic services, says Professor Junne: "They have taken root and are more integrated in the local communities than regular diplomats. Sometimes, they can get more information than the embassies will ever be able to. They live in forty countries and work as government advisers, informing them about interesting legislation changes and economic development processes that can affect Ireland".

In 2011, the Irish government created organization "Connect Ireland", which currently has 68,000 diaspora representatives from different countries of the world. Almost all of them are looking for companies abroad who can potentially invest in Ireland. This work is actively encouraged: friends of "Connect Ireland" receive a financial payment for every new job created in Ireland due to efforts of the foreign company – as a ‘thank you’ from the Irish government. This is how the authorities encourage the Irish living abroad to help create new jobs – and get rewarded for it.

The Irish government also encourages national universities and colleges to follow careers of their successful graduates after they move abroad. The government allocates special grants to educational institutions to support links with talented young people. On the other hand, universities are interested in having good relations with the students, who go on to support the “brand” of their alma mater: teachers are also interested to see where their students go on in life and which skills they develop. This approach is admittedly more effective, because it is difficult for the government structures to track where the migrants go, while it is easier for the teachers to maintain links.

HOW TO TURN «BRAIN DRAIN» INTO INTELLECTUAL GAIN?

Participants of the discussion, of course, raised the issue of «brain drain». What should be done when a person seeking personal fulfilment chooses to go abroad to study and work? Gerd Junne, the Dutch expert, assures that this is nothing to worry about. And here is why. The example of China, according to him, shows that the government can cleverly use the potential of active young people. The Peoples’ Republic of China is implementing a National Talent Development Programme, sending half a million Chinese students to study abroad each year. Surely, some students stay to work and live abroad. However, according to 2014 data, the majority of talented young people come back to their homeland: out of 459.8 thousand students, 360 thousand came back to China. Those who come back have the most valuable experience and knowledge, says the expert. Graduates and specialists with skills and experience of living in another country are of the most value.

This approach is also used by India.  This country is now the world's technological hub: India is one of the leading software producers in the world. Surprisingly, it could only be achieved because of the Indian diaspora. Bangalor became a technology centre thanks to migrants who came back to the country with newly acquired professional experience and professional contacts, which helped establish network international cooperation and integrate India into the international production structure.

ECONOMIC CITIZENSHIP, OR ADDITIONAL RIGHTS

Following the example of India, many countries introduced «economic citizenship» passports for representatives of their diasporas, i.e. those who have national roots and identify themselves as part of the nation. In India, for example, “economic citizenship” gives people to have equal residential rights with all citizens: to invest, set up companies or enterprises, to open special bank accounts and not have to pay additional fees as an alien. That interesting innovation has been adopted by other countries.

Compatriots can perceive foreign (but still their fellow) citizens and specialists differently: they can either be seen with a degree of hostility in the market as competitors or be welcomed when they set up their own new companies and create new jobs.

Round Table "Belarusian diaspora", November 17, 2016, Minsk 

 

BELARUSIAN DIASPORA IN THE WORLD

Alyona Makouskaya, “Homeland”

According to Alyona Makouskaya, head of the Public Association of Belarusians of the World “Homeland”, historical waves of Belarusian emigration make the diaspora heterogeneous. There is post-war (during and after the Second World War) migration, labour migration, political migration, etc. Friends of the diaspora include people of different views, including political ones, different age, professions, etc.

The old generation of migrants living in the West, says Makouskaya, made a significant contribution to promoting the Belarusian identity. For example, their efforts helped create the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum.

The problem of continuity of generations also exists among representatives of the diaspora. In some countries, older groups of migrants have no influx of youth: this is how Belarusian diaspora organizations in Australia, having no new input from the new generation, almost disappeared. Another reason is that young people now choose new forms of cooperation and cooperation with peers (camps instead of conference meetings).

Is Belarusian national diaspora numerous? Formal Belarusian diaspora groups exist only in 26 countries of the world. It is clear that there are many more Belarusians living in the world, and there are many more countries where they live.

According to Public Association of Belarusians of the World “Homeland”, migrants can be divided according to how loyal they are to the current Belarusian authorities, what their view of the world is, whether they identify as Belarusians. The last indicator is the most demonstrative. According to the data collected by the organization, in the past 20 years the number of Belarusians living in Russia decreased from 1.2 million to 0.5 million, which indicates that assimilation goes very quickly. The same trend can be observed in another country close to Belarus, Poland: in the early 1990s, 300,000 people identified as Belarusians, with only 48,000 people doing so in 2002.

In fact, Belarusians assimilating into local societies and thus refusing to identify as part of the nation (or ignoring their roots) may be even more dangerous than categorizing them based on their political beliefs, because the defining indicator for the diasporas all over the world is self-identification.

At the same time, participants of the discussion concluded that the root of many diaspora-related problems lied in Belarus itself. Factors contributing to assimilation of Belarusians living abroad include the weakness of national, cultural and language identities inside the country. That is why emigrants choose territorial and civil (or passport) identity over their national one. The weakness of “Belarusian identity” is thus the problem that needs to be resolved in Belarus.

At the same time, regardless of their views, representatives of the Belarusian diaspora are united in their understanding of Belarusian independence and sovereignty of Belarus and the desire to see their country prosper. In fact, strengthening the country’s independence is the key factor uniting the diaspora and the official representatives of Belarus, thinks the leader of the Public Association of Belarusians of the World “Homeland”. This is the factor that in the long term, may contribute to the process of nation-building.

 

YUPPIE BELARUSIANS, OR THR SECOND GENERATION OF MIGRANTS

Information Secretary of Rada BNR Ales Chaichyts, a second-generation Belarusian who was born in Moscow, noted that it was important to focus on the «professional diaspora», or «yuppie Belarusians».

Ales Chaichyts

"These are people from 30 to 50 years old. They are at the height of their careers, their abilities, their potential as professionals. For Belarus, this is potentially the most interesting, the most productive category of people", - noted the representative of Belarusian diaspora in Russia. Mr. Chaichyts mentioned a number of successful Belarusians abroad, including journalist Evgeny Morozov, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk and businessman Ruslan Kogan.

According to Maria Charakova, a Dutch entrepreneur who was born in Belarus but left for the Netherlands when she was 8 years old, young Belarusians who grew up abroad can establish links to Belarus if they have opportunities to volunteer in their home country, get some language (Russian or Belarusian) training or even take part in a youth camp. Drawing on her own experience, the social entrepreneur noted that having opportunities to learn about Belarus is very important for the young generation of Belarusians, whose parents moved abroad and who have integrated well into their new society and community abroad.

Maria Charakova, author of "Heta Bealrus, dzietka!" («This is Belarus, baby!»), admitted that, living in the Netherlands, she faced the same problem many times: the majority of her interlocutors had no idea where Belarus was. For her peers, the unknown country was a white spot on the map. Tired of explaining that «it’s a country close to Russia», confesses Charakova, she realized that it was much easier to just say «I am Russian». «It is sad, and I will never do this any more, but it happened when I was a teenager», she said, drawing attention of the participants of the discussion to recognition of Belarus in the world. According to her, the majority of her Dutch friends asked: «Belarus? Where is that?»

A cartoon from "This is Belarus, baby!" book, published in 2015

Maria Charakova (in the center), social entrepreneur (Netherlands) 

According to Charakova, making the procedure to visit Belarus easier, especially for young and senior people, as well as creating favourable conditions to study and invest in Belarus, can be a catalyst to strengthening links between Belarus and its diaspora. At the moment, these issues are in the hands of the authorities. 

Participants of the discussions shared their ideas on improving cooperation with representatives of the Belarusian diaspora in order to promote development of the country and agreed that it was necessary to strengthen the dialogue with the authorities to work out a diaspora development strategy on the basis of best practices from all over the world.

ODB Brussels