Policy briefs

Thu, 2014-02-06 08:31

By Vadzim Smok

On 30 January - 2 February a mass protest was staged in the centre of Minsk as a a part of a state-sponsored film project entitled Abel. The highest echelons of the Presidential Administration are supervising the production of the film. Some observers dubbed Abel a response to Viva Belarus, a film that was shot in Poland last year. But producers claim the film will be a fictional work with only a few historical parallels.
However, many things point to the fact that the film can indeed be used as a more ideological affair, made in preparations for the upcoming 2015 presidential elections.  The first awkward shots, strange filmmaking team and a leaked scenario convinced many that the project might end in failure.

Thu, 2014-01-30 10:21
By Ryhor Astapenia
Earlier this month, the newly appointed Orthodox Metropolitan Pavel arrived in Minsk. The Metropolitan has no Belarusian passport or roots, does not speak Belarusian and visited Belarus only twice in his life before appointment.
The new Metropolitan owes his position to the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, rather than to Belarusians, majority of whom consider themself Orthodox Christians.
Russia has been building up it its long-term lobby in Belarus for some time. Many people from the bureaucracy have close ties with their Russian counterparts. After leaving government service, senior officials often find new jobs in Russian companies.
The Kremlin seems reluctant to build its representation amongst the opposition, as Russia`s authorities find them to be inane. However, rumours that Russian businessmen can finance democrats in Belarus remain frequent.
The Kremlin already clear economic and energy leverage over Belarus. Today's Russian lobby is an embryo that can become an influential political force in Belarus, which will serve the Kremlin.
Mon, 2014-01-27 08:40

The year 2013 will probably go into the economic history of Belarus as a year when even the government officials acknowledged that the economy was stagnating, and there were no prospects for any quick economic growth in the years to come. The official economic forecast for 2014 contains a modest GDP growth number of 3.3% (compared with 8.5% forecast for 2013), the Belarusian ruble will continue to be devalued (the only question now is how quickly) and despite the promises of Russian loans, Belarus faces the possibility of a 2011-like currency crisis.

Wed, 2014-01-22 21:08

BISS presents the seventeenth issue of Belarus’ Foreign Policy Index, a publication which analyzes the status of Belarus’s five foreign policy priority areas in November and December 2013.

In late 2013, the Belarusian leadership kept stalling the implementation of the integration projects with Russia. Nevertheless, Russia continued subsidizing the Belarusian economy, albeit subject to political and economic conditionality. Overall, Belarus stayed within the track of Russia’s foreign policy efforts. In the near term, Belarus will likely have to say goodbye to some of its assets, but this will probably happen in the second half of 2014, when official Minsk needs additional financing in the run up to the presidential election

Fri, 2014-01-10 10:20
This year, Russia agreed to supply Belarus with discounted oil only for the next six months, rather than for the whole year. The size and conditions for further shipments will depend on Belarus’ participation in specific integration projects and the sale of several companies to Russia. All of this shows how the Kremlin uses Belarus' energy dependence to get what it wants. Energy remains an area in which Russia has a very strong position in Belarus. Russia dominates the nation's gas infrastructure, oversees the work of its oil refineries and has significant influence on its electrical industry.
Wed, 2014-01-08 10:59

By Vadzim Smok

At the end of the last year the Office of Statistics of Poland published information on the money spent by nationals of neighbouring countries. According to their report, in the period of July to September 2013 Belarusians spent $250m in Poland. Surprisingly, this figure per capita appeared larger than that of either Ukrainians and Russians. Because of lower prices and better quality of goods, Belarusians from border regions, and even from remote parts of Belarus, prefer to shop in Poland. This trend has damaged Belarus' own manufacturers and pumps foreign currency out of the country. This could be the main reason why the Belarusian government delays signing agreements to ease local border traffic control with Poland and Lithuania. Allowing a million and a half Belarusians to enter a 50 km area of the EU without a visa would deal a hard blow to the country.

Mon, 2013-12-30 07:13

The World Ice Hockey Championship will take place in Minsk on 9-25 May. Although not as extensive as those for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, preparation for this major sporting event is riddled with abuses and misteps. Belarusian authorities are accused of using forced labour in the ice hockey arena's construction and struggle with organising English language classes for the police. They also produced a large number of souvenirs that have subsequently been prohibited to sell. Some in the Belarusian opposition tried to persuade the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Ice Hockey World Championship to relocate the championship from Minsk because of its human rights violations. But the campaigners failed to persuade the organisers. For the first time in its history Belarus will be hosting a sporting event of this magnitude.

Thu, 2013-12-12 16:34

Ryhor Astapenia

Last weekend many Belarusians came to Kyiv to support the pro-European demonstrations unfolding there. Social activists, politicians and even the famous rock band​ Liapis Trubetskoy expressed their support for Ukrainians with their pro-European choice. They came to take part in the truly massive political protests - something which they are unable to do back home in Belarus. Though Belarus and Ukraine have a long shared history, the two countries differ significantly in many ways. While Belarusians have not yet gone through a true nation-building process, in many ways they live better than Ukrainians. Unlike Lukashenka's regime, Yanukovych's regime has many democratic attributes that make mass peaceful protests possible. The private sector also makes up a larger share of the economy and Ukraine's oligarchs play a significant role in its politics. They use their own money to finance other centres of influence, in addition to the authorities. 

Wed, 2013-12-04 11:53

The Belarusian authorities have demonstrated interest in improving relations with the EU. Due to stalled negotiations with the Kremlin, Minsk would like to reopen a window of opportunity for cooperation with Brussels However President Lukashenko is not ready to fully meet EU conditions – to release and rehabilitate the political prisoners. The Belarusian delegation at the Eastern Partnership Summit, headed by Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey, expressed a wish to attend to Belarusian-European relations. Makey informed the EU about the country’s desire to start visa facilitation talks with the EU, and, as in the past, Belarus also expressed interest in developing Belarus – EU economic relations.

Wed, 2013-12-04 11:26

By Yauheni Preiherman

The Vilnius Summit of the Eastern Partnership is over. As expected, Ukraine dominated all official and fringe events. Belarus would have been almost forgotten if not for an interesting initiative by international and Belarusian civil society organisations. As a parallel event to the summit, they put together a creative civic space titled BўROOM. The event hosted a photo exhibition and a civil society fair, a number of discussions and a Belarusian cuisine café. One of the discussions focused on how to break the vicious circle in EU-Belarus relations. The speakers outlined the fundamental problems of the difficult relationship and offered ideas to improve it. Most of the participants in the discussion agreed that the EU needs to look for more entry points to engage Belarusian society at large.