Policy briefs

Tue, 2012-10-16 20:40

By Dr Alastair Rabagliati 

The Belarusian authorities ran the elections taking no chances to ensure the maintenance of the political status quo. Opposition candidates who offered even the hint of a threat were not registered, some TV debates were not broadcast to prohibit any advocating of an election boycott, while the traditional manipulation of the vote count and turnout was widespread. Meanwhile, the opposition was unable to capitalise on the chance offered by the campaign period to change their existing status quo. In particular, the opportunity to transform their perception in society from dissidents focused only on opposing the state - to a political opposition providing a realistic alternative to the current regime, was largely missed.

Fri, 2012-10-12 17:19

By Darya Firsava

Less than 3 months left until 2013 - the year when Belarus will have to pay out $3.1 bn of its external debt. Whether the government will manage to handle this challenge is still unclear. Belarusian economy has not yet recovered from the last year’s economic crisis. This year’s GDP growth, mostly attained thanks to export of solvents, is slowing down due to Russia's accusations of this business' illegality. Belarusian rouble continues to fall. Aware of insignificant chances of covering the debt with Belarus' own assets, the authorities hope to refinance a considerable part of it. In any case, Belarusian National Bank has Belarusians - the everlasting source of assets and a well-tested mechanism for the assets’ attraction – devaluation of Belarusian rouble.

Thu, 2012-10-11 16:20

By Dr. Alastair Rabagliati

The Parliamentary election of 2012 never had the ingredients to be transformative, but it did offer the chance for the opposition to present a credible platform to the population – and seek to create space for issues to be debated that matter to the wider population. Ultimately there was a lot of focus within the opposition on discussions of boycott, and at election time on various election observation efforts, but less on credible campaigning and outreach. Some highlights did emerge in the margins of the campaign. Individual opposition figures and groupings emerged with more credit and reputations boosted. However, the lack of an opposition campaign on substantive alternative policies means that the opposition continues to be at the periphery of political life by default.

Wed, 2012-10-10 18:09

Population censuses in Belarus conducted in 1989, 1999 and 2009 reveal a number of interesting trends.

They show that the population declines, the proportion of those who identifies themselves as Belarusians increases and the role of Belarusian language weakens. The period of Lukashenka rule coincided with the sharpest decline of population since the collapse of the USSR. The other important development is that the use of Belarusian language  reduced dramatically, leading to formation of Russian-speaking Belarusian nation. It is remarkable that the largest share of Belarusian-speakers is among those who identify themselves as Poles. 

Fri, 2012-10-05 13:26

By Siarhey Bohdan

This week Lukashenka lost one of his most important allies. Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili lost parliamentary elections and is going to switch to opposition. Belarusian ruler expressed his admiration for Saakashvili which was willing to give up the power. Saakashvili has been an important channel for Belarusian government to communicate with the West. Of course, Lukashenka is known for his ideas of integration with Russia while Saakashvili is a symbol of pro-Western policy in the former Soviet Union. At the first glance any relations between them look improbable.Their alliance, however, makes perfect sense and tells a lot about Belarusian regime and intricacies of post-Soviet international relations.

Wed, 2012-10-03 16:54

By Ryhor Astapenya

Seventy years ago, on 4 October 1942 German authorities organised Dazhynki festival in Minsk. It was the first time the festival took place in Belarus with the highest level of state support. On 21 September 2012 Aleksandr Lukashenka was opening a Dazhynki festival in Gorki, a small town in Eastern Belarus. Dazhynki is a traditional Eastern European celebration of completion of the harvest season. The Thanksgiving Day or Harvest festivals  can be regarded as Western equivalents to Belarusian Dazhynki. But today only Belarusian authorities celebrate it with such pomp. For Lukashenka, it is not just a holiday but also an important political show. Lukashenka uses Dazhynki to demonstrate how much he supports agriculture. Belarusian towns compete for the right to host the holiday, as Dazhynki remains the best opportunity to improve their wellbeing.

Tue, 2012-10-02 15:13

Analysts focus on the effect of recent elections on the politic landscape of Belarus and whether the European Union can do anything to improve the situation in Belarus.The EU and Belarus: Perpetual Tango All Over Again? Giselle Bosse, European Policy Centre, analyses EU-Belarus relations to identify where next for EU policy towards Belarus. The expert makes some recommendations for the situation's improving. In particular, the EU could be more specific about the goals of its policy and respectively knows the answers on some key questions, for instance, what is the EU longer term goal: to push Lukashenka to introduce reforms, or regime change?

Mon, 2012-10-01 16:35

BISS presents the first public issue of our new quarterly report— BISS Political Media Barometer covering April-June 2012. We designed this product with one major goal in mind: to scientifically analyze the quality of the political communication between the Belarusian democratic political forces and the society, and contribute to its improvement. The methodology was elaborated in cooperation with Wojciech Borodzicz-Smolinski (Center for International Relations, Poland), Kristina Vaicunaite (Eastern Europe Studies Center, Lithuania), Donna Victoria (Victoria Research and Consulting, USA), Denis Volkov (Levada Center, Russia) and other anonymous reviewers to whom we remain truly indebted and grateful.

Tue, 2012-09-25 14:56

By Siarhei Bohdan

In early September, the first ever signs in English appeared in the Minsk metro. In June, first bilingual street signs appeared in the centre of the capital. These are important developments. Belarusian officials have talked about attracting foreign investors and tourists for many years.  But until recently virtually all Belarus street signs were only in Cyrillic script. Moreover, the knowledge of English among Belarusians remains low. A few years ago Aleksandr Lukashenka criticised this situation. He joked that Belarusian secretaries hang up on callers upon hearing English. In government agencies and state-owned industries, few people speak English. However, new prime minister Mikhail Myasnikovich and his deputy Syamashka both claim English proficiency. But Belarus has a long way to go to become a foreigners-friendly country.

Mon, 2012-09-24 18:53

The European Union has struggled to develop a coherent strategy towards Belarus, amid continued violations of democracy and human rights, and repression of the opposition, which has resulted in the EU placing sanctions on the country. Brussels has pursued a two-pronged approach: targeted measures against the Belarusian authorities on the one hand, while trying to intensify dialogue with, and support for, civil society and citizens on the other. Unfortunately, this approach has yielded very few results. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has failed to move away from his autocratic policies. In foreign policy terms, Lukashenka has tried to play the EU and Russia off one another. When relations with Russia became tricky, he turned to the EU. When the EU imposed sanctions, he tried to cosy up to the Russians. Parliamentary elections on 23 September, which are expected to shortly be officially declared as not having been free and fair, were boycotted by Belarus’s beleaguered opposition.