Policy briefs

Tue, 2007-09-25 10:53
In a recent statement U.S. Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack declared that Belarus has once again increased its intimidation of citizens and called on the government to release political prisoners and respect human rights. Ten days later, Pirkka Tapiola, adviser to the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy, expressed a similar wish, stating that the EU could only develop normal relations with Belarus if it saw "real steps toward democratization" that would include the release of prisoners, a free press, and free elections. Although there were some positive signs in the spring when several political prisoners were released, the Lukashenka regime appears to have reverted to selective and petty persecution and harassment of opposition activists (U.S. Department of State, September 11; Belapan, September 21).
Fri, 2007-09-14 09:38
A recent wave of arrests of youth activists in Belarus clearly testifies to the sad reality that the Belarusian authorities do not intend to democratize public life. But the arrests also show that, following the hotly contested presidential election in March 2006, the ruling regime has considerably marginalized and alienated its opponents. Now Belarusian opposition activists appear to resemble Soviet-era dissidents, rather than competitors in a race for power.
Tue, 2007-09-11 17:33

By David Marples, September 11, 2007

The issue of building a domestic nuclear power station in Belarus has cropped up several times of late, but there is no definitive program in place. A year ago, the issue appeared to be resolved, with a proposed location in Mahileu region and a timetable for bringing the first reactor on line (Belgazeta, September 12, 2006). Recent statements by leading figures in the Belarusian government, however, indicate that the question has not been thought through properly and may constitute simply a reassuring message to the public in light of the continuing problems of reliance on supplies of Russian oil and gas.

The Belarusian media has reported in the past that following exploration of possible sites for a nuclear plant in the mid-1990s that a VVER (water-pressurized reactor) station would be completed by 2013-2015 and would reach a maximum capacity of 2,000 megawatts (i.e. two 1,000-megawatt reactors). One of the chief advocates has been Mikhail Myasnikovich, a close associate of President Alexander Lukashenka, and the chairman of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences (EDM, December 6, 2006). Despite the current ban on building reactors, which expires in 2008, as well as the continuing medical problems and contaminated land that resulted from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Belarusian government declared that construction would begin in 2010.

Thu, 2007-09-06 12:45

By Yaraslau Kryvoi

This Article analyzes the role of legal, political and economic factors in determining the effectiveness of trade sanctions imposed in response to violation of labor standards. It begins by addressing the theoretical aspects of the linkage between trade and labor and then turns to the practical aspects by examining the application of the recently revised European Union's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

The Article suggests that the reasons why countries fail to respect core labor standards are of critical importance in determining the potential effectiveness of sanctions. If the reason is principally economic the mere threat of sanctions may be enough to motivate a country to modify its policies to prevent economic damages resulting from sanctions. Sanctions are less effective in changing the conduct of countries which violate core labor standards primarily due to political reasons.

The European Union's decisions to terminate trade preferences for labor rights violations for Myanmar in 1997 and Belarus in 2006 did not have any significant impact on these countries and are unlikely to achieve their desired objectives in the future for two main reasons. First, the main motivation for these countries' violations is political and the cost of the undemocratic regimes' compliance with international obligations is greater than the cost of non-compliance. Second, both countries have powerful 'sponsors', which undermine the economic impact of the European Union's sanctions. Despite the limited effectiveness against the target countries, the withdrawal of trade preferences may have other important effects, such as deterring other potential violators, demonstrating the European Union's commitment to promote core labor standards and strengthening the link between trade and fair labor practices.

Fri, 2007-08-31 10:21

Public Information Notices (PINs) form part of the IMF's efforts to promote transparency of the IMF's views and analysis of economic developments and policies. With the consent of the country (or countries) concerned, PINs are issued after Executive Board discussions of Article IV consultations with member countries, of its surveillance of developments at the regional level, of post-program monitoring, and of ex post assessments of member countries with longer-term program engagements. PINs are also issued after Executive Board discussions of general policy matters, unless otherwise decided by the Executive Board in a particular case.

On August 24, 2007, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with the Republic of Belarus.1

Wed, 2007-08-22 11:54
  • Why, despite the relatively small volume of estimated losses, the Belarusian authorities had been trying to avoid the suspension of Belarus from the EU's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)?
  • Does the end of the ‘GSP saga’ imply the end to the ‘strategy of dialogue’ towards Belarus as suggested by some of the EU representatives? Has the EU overestimated its capabilities to influence the situation in Belarus by using the GSP as a policy tool?
  • How can the new EU strategy towards Belarus look like after June 21, 2007? What are the tools the EU might consider to influence the situation in Belarus after the GSP’s potential is apparently exhausted?
  • What is the role of the Belarusian civil society in helping the EU to devise such policy tools towards Belarus?

Participants of the Expert Panel:
Olga Stuzhinskaya, director of the Brussels-based Office for a Democratic Belarus;

Viachaslau Pazniak, professor, European Humanities University, head of the Wider Europe internet portal;

Alaksandr Lahviniec, professor, European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania) assistant to the leader of the movement “For Freedom!” Alaksandr Milinkevich;

Mon, 2007-08-20 14:11
By David Marples

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In the aftermath of the latest round of the ongoing gas dispute with Russia, the Belarusian Ministries of Labor and Social Protection and Statistics have provided figures on the economic and demographic situation in the country that shed a favorable light on living standards and economic progress in the country. Added to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's comment that the payment of debt to Gazprom has not had any impact on internal stability (Belorusskie novosti, August 11; www.charter97.org, August 10), the authorities are assuring citizens that the government has overcome this "minor crisis."

The figures are reminiscent of Soviet-era accounts in painting a uniformly rosy picture. Over seven months of 2007, GDP rose by 8.8% compared to the same period last year, keeping pace with the official prognosis of 8-9%. In this same period, industrial output increased by 7-8% and consumer goods output by 6.2%. Production of food goods fell slightly to 99% of the 2006 level, but labor productivity increased by 8%, within the range of the official target of 7-8.6% (Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta, August 11).
Mon, 2007-08-20 12:21

On May 5-15, 2007 independent sociologists conducted a public opinion poll covering the most topical aspects of life in Belarus (those face-to-face interviewed are 1530 persons aged 18 and over, margin of error doesn't exceed 0.03). Below you may find commentaries to the most important findings of these sociological procedure.

Full text of the material can be found under the following link: http://www.iiseps.org/e5-07.html

Mon, 2007-08-20 11:31
Created 2007-08-08 17:20

How many protesters in the streets does it take to bring an authoritarian government down? What is more conducive to a democratic revolution's success: the support of the majority or the decisive actions of a minority? Can an active but small group achieve change even if their support by the "passive" majority is very low? And - vice-versa - can a government stay in power even if a majority of the population is against it?

These questions are raised by the success of the celebrated - and feared - "colour revolutions" in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine [0], and by the failure of the model to replicate itself in Belarus and Azerbaijan. Many different groups seek answers to them: observers, analysts and political scientists who wish to understand and draw lessons [1] from these transnational political experiences; civil-society activists and organisations [2] which attempt to provide resources of thinking and tools of change for people on the ground; and politicians, both those who seek to foment revolution and those who are eager to prevent and stifle it.

This article offers a model which - without aspiring to an exhaustive explanation - proposes a new way of evaluating the factors at work during a revolutionary situation, if not of forecasting its outcome; as well as introducing a different viewpoint and language in understanding the revolutionary process.

Sun, 2007-08-12 13:44
Monday, 06 August 2007
By Vitali Silitski
The last stage of the Belarus-Russia gas conflict broke out on 1 August 2007, when the Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom declared about its intention to cut gas supplies to Belarus by 45 percent. The conflict, which many analysts accepted as a sign of the imminent collapse of the Belarusian economy, did not last for long, though. In fact, the very talk about the recent stage of the gas conflict as a sign of collapse or even crisis was misplaced. Yet, the stubbornness with which the government of Belarus was refusing to pay back its debts also confirmed that the economic difficulties could not be ruled out in the future, and that the correction of the overall economic course by the official Minsk may be inevitable.
According to the agreement signed by prime minister of Belarus with Gazprom on 31 December 2006, Belarus would pay Gazprom 100 USD per 1000 qubic meters of gas in 2007 (as opposed to 260 USD – the price normally paid by the European consumers), and that the price for Belarus would gradually converge with the European one until 2011. In exchange for this willingness to phase in the transition to the world gas prices, the Belarusian side would sell Gazprom a 50 percent stake in its gas distribution and transportation company by 2010. Belarus received this spring the first installment of 625 million USD for the 12.5 percent of Beltransgaz shares to be transferred to Gazprom in 2007. At the same time, Gazprom allowed the Belarusian side to pay 55 percent of the price in the first half of 2007. Official Minsk promised to pay off this newly-accumulated debt of 456 million USD by 23 July 2007, but failed to do so. After the two week-long negotiations on the rescheduling of this debt between Belarus and Russia, Gazprom announced on 1 August 2007 its decision to cut gas deliveries to Belarus by 45 percent starting from 3 August 2007.
The new stage of the Belarus-Russia protracted gas conflict seemed to be developing according to a similar scenario that could have been seen back in February 2004 and in December 2006-January 2007. First, there was a strong anti-Kremlin and anti-Gazprom rhetoric of the Belarusian president, who claimed that Gazprom was going to privatize “not just Beltransgaz, but the entire Belarus” and once again promised that “Moscow would not put him on his knees” (Belarusian TV Channel 1 broadcast, 21.00 2 August, 2007). Second, the booming industry of forecasting the apocalypse of the Belarusian economy once again reached its full capacity. For example,  the Global Insight decreased the ‘sovereign rating’ of Belarus, considering the country to be at the edge of ‘possible collapse’. Similar predictions mushroomed in the Belarusian, Russian, and the Western press.