Policy briefs

Wed, 2013-06-19 18:29

By Yauheni Preiherman

Until 30 June all young Belarusians who want to become political analysts at government institutions can apply for a special competitive program. The organisers of the program say that they are looking for fresh ideas and competent professionals.

Mon, 2013-06-17 11:08

Belarus has relied upon Russia for economic assistance and security guarantees since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The trade-off, argues Anaïs Marin, is that close but fractious ties with Moscow brings the country's sovereignty into question.

By Anaïs Marin for Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW)

Although the Republic of Belarus is constitutionally designated as a neutral country[1], it is in fact closely connected with Russia’s own security and defence architecture. Within the Union State of Belarus and Russia, the armed forces are integrated to an extent unequalled in the world. A legacy of the Soviet division of labour, the Belarusian defence industry complex remains structurally dependent on Russia, which is its main raw material provider, outlet for exports and intermediary on world markets.Bilateral military cooperation also builds on the perception of common threats and partly shared security interests. Hence it unfolds regardless of the disputes that sporadically sour relations between Minsk and Moscow, standing out as the main achievement of the Union State – if not the only one.

Mon, 2013-06-17 10:42

By Yaraslau Kryvoi, Alastair Rabagliati

The European Humanities University (EHU) was forced into exile in 2004 when the Belarusian authorities withdrew its licence. This followed the EHU’s refusal to acquiesce to government pressure to change its leadership. The exiled University found its new home in Vilnius, which is less three-hours by train from Minsk. The current rector of the EHU should step down soon in line with the requirements of Lithuanian law, having served two terms. The Centre for Transition Studies publishes a paper authored by Yaraslau Kryvoi and Alastair Rabagliati which aims to launch a constructive public discussion on the direction of the EHU under the new leadership, to deal with the challenges facing both the EHU and Belarusian society. The authors interviewed by e-mail and by telephone over 20 individuals related to the EHU, including its alumni, lecturers, administration, donors and well as representatives of Belarusian civil society who worked with the University in the past. Many agreed that an open discussion would benefit the university.

Wed, 2013-06-05 15:49

On May 29th, President Lukashenka participated in the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Astana, and on May 31st he met with Russia’s Prime Minister Medvedev in Minsk. Lukashenka’s meetings with Russia’s top leaders failed to resolve the most pressing economic issues for Belarus. Belarus’ negotiating potential in bilateral relations is weakened by the intensified Eurasian integration. Potential enlargement of the Eurasian Economic Union reduces Belarus’ bargaining opportunities. On May 29th in Astana, three Customs Union members granted Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine with observers’ status, and on May 31st, Kyrgyz and Ukrainian delegations signed in Minsk a memorandum on expanding the cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Commission.

Fri, 2013-05-31 09:37

By Nadine Lashuk

The German-Belarusian trade balance reached an all-time high in 2012. However, many German experts regret that it stays far below its full potential - primarily because of bad image of Belarus as well as unfavourable investment conditions. German institutions and companies doing business in Belarus risk to be blamed of cooperating with a rogue state. However, the Belarusian economy needs foreign capital and know-how to modernise. In its May edition, the German economic magazine Impulse suggests that the German-Belarusian Economic Club (Deutsch-Belarussischer Wirtschaftsclub) consults the Belarusian government and helps Lukashenka to improve the image of his country abroad. The author of the article, published on April 24th this year, describes the German-Belarusian Economic Council as “entertaining close contacts with the Belarusian government.”

Mon, 2013-05-13 13:09

The Minister of Education Syarhei Maskevich announced on 3 May 2013 that "Belarusian universities enjoy a high level of autonomy". Considering the fact that Belarus remains the only European state outside of Bologna process precisely because of its lack of academic freedoms, top Belarusian officials may not be completely honest.

Wed, 2013-05-08 12:18

The landmark foreign policy events this April included the visit by Kazakhstan Prime Minister S. Akhmetov to Minsk, acquisition of a part of a seaport terminal in Klaipeda, which could be regarded as a sort of guarantee of the continuous transit of Belarusian commodities via the Lithuanian port, and the ongoing efforts of Belarusian diplomats in the Western front amid contradictions manifested in Belarusian-Russian relations. Overstocks remain a significant problem: in early March 2013, inventories were at 75.2% of the monthly output, whereas in April, the figure went up to 79.7%. As of 1 April, inventories were worth a total of 32.3 trillion Belarusian rubles, more than a quarter of the absolute amount of the country’s GDP recorded in January-March 2013. The main “contributors” to the inventories are processing companies. Although A. Lukashenka made it clear in his annual address to the nation and the parliament this April that inventories needed to be cut down, there is no mechanism to deal with overstocks. Moreover, inventories will likely further increase in case of anticipated drops in oil prices and weaker demand in the Russian market, the largest consumer of Belarusian products.

Mon, 2013-05-06 10:57

On 25 April 2013 Tatsiana Matoryna, Director of Brest Stocking Plant — one of the largest apparel industry companies in the former Soviet Union— blamed sharp decrease in the plant’s sales on Belarus’ economic integration with Russia and Kazakhstan. The accusation has serious grounds: in 2013, sales volumes of the plant decreased by about 30% compared to the same period in 2012. The main reason for this and similar sales drops is competition in which Belarusian goods often lose. For years, tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade helped Belarusian businesses avoid unwanted competitors on the domestic market. However, the country’s accession to the Customs Union with Russia and Kazakhstan, and Russia’s subsequent accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) deprived Belarusian plants of the usual state protection.

Fri, 2013-05-03 13:19

By Siarhei Bohdan

Last week, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu discussed with Alexander Lukashenka establishment of a Russian air force base in Belarus. A few days later, Lukashenka dismissed the claims that Russia will have a military base in Belarus. The news came as  media of neighbouring countries continue to discuss the significance of Belarus-Russian military drill West-2013 (Zapad-2013) scheduled for autumn. Belarusian and Russian officials insist that theWest-2013 drill does not threaten anyone, and remind that last year NATO conducted a dozen of drills of different scales in neighbouring countries. Despite various speculations in Belarusian and Western media, little evidence exists to support that is Belarus threatening anyone military, together with Russia or on its own.

Thu, 2013-05-02 11:32

By Ruhor Astapenia

Last week Belarus Digest published an article about the problems of technical assistance to Belarus. The current piece recommends possible solutions to those problems.
In the first place the EU should send a clear message to the Belarusian authorities that Belarus will be able to get more out if the regime decentralises and simplifies its system. This will encourage other actors to participate more actively in European programmes. The European Union should elaborate a “road map” for the future and outline priorities of cooperation together with the Belarusian authorities. Also, the EU representatives in Belarus try to work with Belarusian authorities at the local level as much as possible. The EU should also increase its cooperation with the Belarusian independent community of experts. As the level of the Belarusian public administration remains quite low, EU input can provide the most important ideas for the modernisation of the country.