Policy briefs

Sat, 2013-11-30 10:36

By Ruhor Adtapenya

29 November 2013
Eastern Partnership Discussion Panel (Vilnius)
On 28-29 November Vilnius hosted the Third Eastern Partnership Summit. Uladzimir Makei, the Belarusian Minister for Foreign Affairs, took part in the event.  During the summit, Makei said that Belarus would start negotiations on visa regime liberalisation with the EU. It appears that both parties are working out a new vision of their relationship. The Eastern Partnership’s minor progress in its relations with Belarus is due primarily to Lukashenka`s reluctance to choose a European path of development. In part, this is because the regime remains financially dependent on the Kremlin. The European Union, for its part, simply cannot propose the same kind of financial support. While it has appropriated about $700m in technical aid to Belarus since 1991 - Russia gave its neighbor 14 times more in 2012 alone. To acquire more influence in Belarus, the EU needs channels of communication with the authorities. The first bargain could be simple: the EU counterbalances Russian influence in Belarus and Lukashenka`s regime stops repressing the opposition.

Thu, 2013-11-28 15:01

By Siarhei Bohdan

Last week, the Belarusian Supreme Economic Court approved recalling the license of a major Minsk-based publishing house. The government apparently shut it down for publications which seemed too  political. This decision dealt a serious blow to Belarusian-language culture since few publishers have produced as many books in Belarusian as the Lohvinau publishing house did.

A major victim of the political confrontation is the Belarusian language. The total circulation of books in Belarusian in the 2010s constituted just a third of the level under Soviet rule. The Russian language is a monopoly in Belarus. A sad fate for a country which between the world wars had four official and effectively functioning state languages.

Tue, 2013-11-26 12:26

By Ryhor Astapenya

On 20-21 November, Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited Baku. He held talks with Azerbaijan state leader Ilham Aliyev and they opened the new building of the Belarusian Embassy in Baku. This building became a good sign of the quickly developing relations between the two countries. Trade between the countries is swelling, partly because of Belarusian weapon exports to Azerbaijan, which irritates both Russia and Armenia. Aliyev is also trying to help Lukashenka with his dealings with Russia and the EU. Aliyev’s record of human rights violations appears worse than Lukashenka’s. However, this does not prevent the West from maintaining good relations with the authorities of Azerbaijan, unlike those with Belarus. Belarus has no oil or gas, so its authorities are faced with a much tougher choice—either become Russia’s vassal or democratise.

Mon, 2013-11-18 15:08

By Andrei Parotnikau

Belarusian authorities sided openly with Kyiv in its conflict with Moscow by be willing to help Ukraine in bypassing a possible economic blockade by Russia. The establishment of joint Belarusian – Ukrainian manufacturing companies in Belarus will neutralise to a large extent the threat of any blocked access to Ukrainian engineering products, including military and dual-use products, to the Customs Union's market.
Russia's economic problems are being projected on the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), while Belarus cannot even count on Russia's support in re-equipping its national army in the coming years. One can still expect supplies of small quantities of new weapons and transfers of used weapons from Russia's stockpiles. Naturally, there is no question of them supplying any new combat-ready aircraft, something that has been repeatedly announced by Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

Fri, 2013-11-15 09:57

By Vadzim Bylina

Slow economic growth, inefficient capital accumulation and the steady outflow of its labour force from Belarus became the hottest topics at the Kastrychnicki Economic Forum (KEF) held on 5 November in Minsk.
For many years authorities responded to the criticism toward the Belarusian economic model using the argument that the Belarusian economy is growing. Today even official economists would agree that the economy is stagnating. At the forum, experts discussed the reasons why the economy grew and why it is now stagnating. Three key economic think-tanks in Belarus organised the event: The Research Centre of the Institute for Privatisation and Management (IPM Research Centre), the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC) and the Centre for Social and Economic Research - Belarus (CASE-Belarus). Belarus Digest broadcasted the conference live.

Wed, 2013-11-13 11:12

By Siarhei Bohdan

On 31 October Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Siamashka, while speaking in parliament, claimed that Belarus was suffering losses due to systemic exemptions in the Russian-dominated Customs Treaty and Common Economic Space. These losses might increase - in January Russia is introducing a recycling tax on cars. The losses for Belarusian trucks producers might allegedly reach as much as $350m. The Belarusian government is not only quarreling verbally with Kremlin, it is changing the conditions of its agreements with Russia or refusing to effectively implement them - for example by ignoring its obligations on privatisation, which Moscow imposed as a precondition of loans.

Tue, 2013-11-12 13:40

By Artyom Shraibman

On 24-26 October the political directors of the Swedish and Polish foreign ministries – Torbjorn Sohlstrom and Jaroslaw Bratkiewicz – visited Minsk. They came instead of their bosses Karl Bildt and Radoslav Sikorski, who preferred to go to Chisinau, Kyiv and Tbilisi​. This shows Europeans' apathy and disappointment towards Belarus. This situation has developed following long but unsuccessful attempts to influence the Belarusian regime. The European Union tried sanctions, engagement and combination of both, but nothing has really worked. Combined with Belarusian authorities’ unwillingness to make any concessions,
a trend of European apathy is becoming rather dangerous not just for those in Belarus depending on the European Union, but for the geopolitical choices of the nation and its own independence.

Wed, 2013-11-06 12:35

By Alla Leukavets

The European Parliament is a key European Union institution responsible for EU foreign policy. However, in some areas this institution is referred to as the EU’s “talking shop” and its effectiveness remains contested. The European Parliament’s approach to Belarus exemplifies precisely this point.

Among all of the European Parliament mechanisms, the work of the European Parliament's Parliamentary Delegation for relations with Belarus represents the least effective means of addressing the situation inside the country. European Parliament resolutions can serve to attract public attention to the problems in Belarus but their real effect remains debatable.  However, the individual initiatives of Members of Parliament (MEPs) provide a good platform for discussing the situation in Belarus.

Tue, 2013-11-05 12:43

On 5 November experts on the Belarusian economy and government officials will take a closer look at the challenges the Belarusian economy faces at the October Economic Forum (KEF) in Minsk. Hotel Europa will host a one day conference 'New Opportunities or Old Challenges? Scenarios for the Economy of Belarus.' Deputy Minister of Economy Dzmitry Holukhau will open the event which will include speakers such as Pavel Daneyko from the Institute for Privatisation and Management, Marek Dąbrowski from CASE Warsaw and the academic director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies Aleksei Pikulik. KEF is an abbreviation for Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum, which in English means October Economic Forum. October is a month when many countries traditionally celebrate a harvest festival – and it is for this reason that the organizers decided to do something similar: they want to gather the most interesting ideas on the economy in Belarus that have accumulated over the past year. Participants will ask questions through the news portal tut.by and Belarus Digest will broadcast the conference live. Belarus Digest interviewed Alexander Chubrik, director of the IPM Research Centre, about the idea of the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum and its first conference in Minsk.

Mon, 2013-11-04 10:15

By Siarhei Bohdan

At the end of October the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) published a new issue of its Political Mediabarometer. It shows that many in the Belarus opposition seem to focus more on international activities and less on work inside the country. The Political Mediabarometer reflects public communications of Belarusian political parties and movements and their presence in Belarusian media and covers April-June 2013. According to the BISS' findings, the public campaign Tell the Truth, United Civic Party and the Party of the Belarusian People's Front appeared the most frequently in Belarusian media. This media presence, however, does not lead to any serious level of public support even for the biggest parties or the most well-known politicians. The Belarusian opposition needs to fight for any publicity just to be recognised by the common people. Some of the new political forces – for example, the campaign Tell the Truth – manage to do it better.