This BISS-Trends issue is a semiannual monitoring report encompassing the main tendencies in the development of the Belarusian state and society in the first half of 2014. The report identifies the key trends in the following areas: 1. political democratization/political liberalization; 2. economic liberalization; 3. good governance and the rule of law; 4. geopolitical orientation; 5. cultural policy.
In the first half of the year 2014, no quality changes were recorded in terms of political liberalization; however, the existing trend towards regress continued. The number of politically motivated detentions and arrests markedly increased, which was in large measure due to the seasonal surge in protests staged by the opposition, and the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk.
Furthermore, the amendments to the Electoral Code adopted in the second half of 2013 limited the campaigning opportunities for opposition candidates. The elections to local councils of deputies were under complete control of the executive authorities and characterized by an extensive use of administrative resources and repression against opposition candidates and political activists.
The amendments to the Law On Non-Governmental Organizations brought about slight simplifications to the procedure for the state registration of new organizations, whereas the negative trends concerning the regulation of the operation of NGOs remained in place. The release of several political prisoners indicates certain political liberalization; however, no structural shift in this direction is visible.
In the economic sector, the trend towards further macroeconomic imbalances continued. The main macroeconomic indicators dropped in the first half of 2014, prompting the government to step up its intervention in the economy by way of additionally subsidizing state-run enterprises and making additional moves to encourage import substitution. For its part, the lack of structural reforms has resulted in a situation where the capability to maintain the current level of gold and foreign exchange reserves depends exclusively on foreign borrowing (in the first half of 2014, two loan installments from VTB were received), which once again drives the economy into a vicious ‘loan to loan’ circle.
When it comes to good governance and rule of law, the first six months of 2014 were characterized by slight positive changes. The investment legislation saw de-codification moves, and certain developments indicated that the Law On Public–Private Partnership may be adopted soon. At the same time, Resolution of the Government On Business Plans of Investment Projects was adopted to streamline modernization projects for state-owned companies and improve their efficiency. Further, in the first half of the year, the implementation of the reform of Belarusian courts began, following the launch of the reform in the second half of 2013.
In international relations and geopolitical orientation, Belarus’s foreign policy was completely in line with Russia’s foreign priorities. Moreover, the dependence on Russia further increased following the signing of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) Treaty, buildup in the presence of the Russian military grouping in Belarus, and transfer of two loan installments by Russia’s VTB.
At the same time, Belarus managed to boost its contacts with the West — with both the European Union and the United States. The contacts with the EU became more substantial in content. Events with the participation of high-ranking U.S. officials were also held. Further, the release of some political prisoners, especially the human rights activist Alies Bialiacki, contributed to the ‘thaw’ in the bilateral relationships. Although there was no full-scale normalization, the current trend can definitely be described as an improvement in Belarus’s relations with the West.
The cultural sector is still an area of stagnation that sees no quality changes. Despite certain improvements in the cultural landscape, which were for the most part promoted by the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk, the polarization of official and ‘underground’ cultures remain in place, along with some developments that enhance the ideologization of official culture and indicate the mounting personnel crisis in culture management. The policy of ‘Soft Belarusianization’ remains inconsistent and yields no tangible results.
Read the full version of the monitoring in PDF