Policy briefs

Tue, 2012-10-30 14:00

Over the last decade, Russian companies became the most desired place of employment for many Belarusian top ex-officials. They offer huge salaries compared to those in Belarusian public service. While some Belarusians settle in Moscow, others become local representatives of Russian interests. Belarusian officials can offer extensive contacts within Belarusian establishment and effective lobbying of business interests. This growing group, closely affiliated with Russian elites may become an important factor in Belarusian politics. Potentially, Russia can use them to press its interests and even change the current Belarusian regime.

Mon, 2012-10-29 17:16

To all appearances, the frequent attempts of the Belarusian authorities to make their point that “Belarus is not ready for democracy” are not just a way to secure ideological legitimization, but also a sincere belief of a significant part of the country’s political class. This idea is close to a revised version of the modernization theory: it is only when the “right” system of values and interests emerges in society that a successful transition to capitalism and democracy will be possible. An alternative idea – “Lukashenka is the one to blame for Belarusian autocracy” – tends to neglect the role of structural preconditions, sticking to the ‘deus-ex-Machina’ role of the Belarusian president. He descended to the political field in 1994 and distorted the course of the country’s political life. So, was Belarus really unprepared for democracy in the early 1990s, and is the Belarusian political trajectory really an anomaly?

Thu, 2012-10-25 17:40

Although the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarus has just kicked off, it has already faced a barrage of criticism from both Belarusian and European experts. Nevertheless, despite its somewhat vague nature and equivocal objectives, it seems to stand a chance of turning into an efficient platform for a variety of stakeholders to communicate and has a potential for drawing attention to Belarusian issues in the European political scene. Dialogue on modernisation: communication in a new environment The European Dialogue on Modernisation (EDM) with Belarusian society was officially launched by Commissioner Štefan Füle on 29 March 2012, amidst the diplomatic crisis between Minsk and Brussels. Now that top level bilateral intergovernmental contacts are blocked, the programme brings about a new model for cooperation with Belarusian civil society and political opposition with a view to “exchanging views and ideas … on necessary reforms for the modernisation of Belarus”(1).
The third round of start-up technical meetings of the EDM expert working groups was held in September. Members of these teams, however, still seem to be unaware of their roles and the objectives of their groups. Some Belarusian analysts have already pointed out the main problems of the initiative: vague goals and objectives, lack of elaborated institutional frameworks and procedures, and its hasty launch. Indeed, the first meetings of the expert teams indicated that the participants lacked a clear understanding of what the final result of the Dialogue should look like.

Thu, 2012-10-25 15:03

By Dzianis Melyantsou, BISS

Results for the public
Regardless of the voter turnout tradition dating back to Soviet times, the Belarusian public has a rather realistic view of the actual voting process and the degree of parliament’s significance as a government body. House of Representatives’ ability to solve their problems and the absence of a visible, clear and attractive political alternative (only 8,6% of the citizens were ready to vote for the opposition leaders).

Results for the opposition
None of the political organisations participating in the run-up to the parliamentary election believed in its fairness or any possibility to use it to influence the national political situation. This opinion, however, did not unite the opposition. On the contrary, three election strategies emerged: a boycott, participation, and restricted participation (UCP and BNF withdrew their candidates before the voting). This additionally contributed to the electorate’s disenchantment.

Thu, 2012-10-25 13:10

http://commissioner.cws.coe.int/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=120&display=&x=500&y=299By Gerald Knaus and Alexandra Stiglmayer

Is the EU edging closer to making a fundamental and strategic mistake by restoring the visa requirement for citizens of the Western Balkans? At this moment the interior ministers of six EU countries - Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden - are pushing for a reversal of the most significant decision made in the past decade to further the European integration of the Western Balkans. The issue is also on the agenda of the justice and home affairs council on 25/26 October this week. Such a decision would be a bad blow to the EU’s credibility in southeast Europe. It would also be deeply unfair to the citizens in the countries concerned. Reintroducing visa requirements for citizens of Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro or Bosnia would also signal that other countries with roadmaps or visa liberalisation talks - from Kosovo to Turkey to Moldova - stand no real chance of success.

Thu, 2012-10-25 13:03

Prepared by Alyona Lis

On 5 October, the Open Society Institute Brussels organised a debate, entitled "Road to Reform: Assessing Progress in the Eastern Neighbourhood". Experts from international think-tanks, and partner countries, as well as EU representatives provided an overview of the situation in all six EaP countries and touched upon challenges and successes of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. During the event the European Integration Index for Eastern Partnership Countries prepared under leadership of the International Renaissance Foundation and the Open Society Foundations (Ukraine) was presented.

Wed, 2012-10-24 11:35

According to Doing Business 2013, Belarus is now on the highest level in its history. It occupies the 58th place out of 185  countries. Last year the World Bank named it among the quickest reformers on the way to the “Ease of doing business” goal. The indices mainly follow from the analysis of Belarusian legal and regulatory acts.  What is going on in the country’s business reality is more difficult to reflect. The case of Spartak and Kommunarka revealed the most crucial defect in its economy – disregard to private property rights. The de facto nationalisation of Marat Novikov’s and many minor shareholders’ property could go smooth without attraction of the world’s tense attention. Belarusian state machine did its work on Spartak and Kommunarka impeccably. But Lukashenka’s emotional speech of 12 October when he ordered to transfer the reins of power over these almost entirely private companies to the State ruined all efforts to make Belarus attractive for investors.

Mon, 2012-10-22 22:32

By Dzmitry Bruhavetski

Having joined the Customs Union (CU) and the Common Free Market Zone (CFMZ), Belarus will not only enjoy the new opportunities, but also face the new challenges. Many of the experts point out that the country was not prepared for the accession into the CFMZ and that the existing problems only be getting worse in the future. The analysis of the current situation as regards the Belarusian trade within the CFMZ, enabling us to make the certain short and medium term predictions, shows that the “quality and affordable” Belarusian goods are almost exclusively sold due to the dumping, the currency devaluation, the cheap energy, the public subsidies and the direct support from the partners of Belarus within the CFMZ, especially from Russia. In many ways, the CFMZ is becoming the space of non-realizable advantages and inevitable problems for Belarus.

Fri, 2012-10-19 13:29

Considered by many to be Europe’s ‘last dictatorship’ under President Alexander Lukashenka, Belarus’s relations with the EU have been in decline for several years, despite initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership. Giselle Bosse warns that instead of disengaging, the EU should continue its policy of critical engagement with the country by building the capacity of Belarusian civil society and being more realistic and specific about its policy goals.

Thu, 2012-10-18 10:58

The release of Belarusian political prisoners Siarhiej Kavalienka and Paval Syramalotau in late September does not mean that everyone should expect a quick release of all other prisoners of conscience. The authorities stepped up pressure on Ales Bialiacki, Zmicier Dashkievich and Mikalaj Statkievich in order to force them into making a symbolic gesture – signing a petition for clemency. According to the latest information received from Zmicier Dashkievich, he was put into a disciplinary cell where he is being held during 6 days already. He started a hunger strike on September 21. Fulfilment by the authorities of the main condition of unfreezing relations with the West – release of the political prisoners – depends on the situation in relations between Belarus and Russia. The authorities hope that reduction in supply of crude oil from Russia will happen only in the last quarter of this year. The prognosis of social and economic development of Belarus in 2013 was drafted proceeding from the understanding that Russia would supply cheap gas and crude oil on advantageous terms. On December 18, a day before the 2010 presidential election, Zmicier Dashkievich was sentenced to two years of imprisonment on the charge of hooliganism and was supposed to be released in December but in August he was sentenced to another year in penal colony for alleged disobedience to the prison administration.