On 11 May, the Union of Poles in Belarus sent around 6,000 signatures to Alexander Lukashenka demanding an end to the Russification of Polish schools in Hrodna Region.
In July, The Belarusian Ministry of Education plans to decrease the number of subjects taught in Polish in Polish schools of Hrodna and Vaukavysk.
Over the past several years, Belarusian Poles have fallen victim to the state's attempts to restrict minority rights in education and religion. Hrodna Region, where most Belarusian Poles reside, has become the epicentre for the struggle for minority rights in Belarus.
On 14 May, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met at the One Belt, One Road Forum in Beijing.
This became the two leaders’ fourth encounter since May 2015. Indeed, as Sharif said at the meeting, relations between Pakistan and Belarus have been strengthening ‘with every passing day’ over the past two years.
‘The Minsk-Beijing-Islamabad triangle could become a promising formula for cooperation’, Lukashenka stated hopefully in 2015. After many years spent on developing relations with New Delhi, Belarus seems to be placing its bets on India’s geopolitical rivals, China and Pakistan. But will this bet pay off economically, as the Belarusian leader anticipates?
On 20-22 May, Minsk hosted Milex 2017, its eighth exhibition of arms and military equipment. This year, the exhibition hosted more than 140 official guests from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.
Military officials from more than 27 countries were in attendance. However, the exhibition's results remain somewhat mysterious. Manufacturers have repeatedly stated that they do not want to disclose their partners or the amount of weapons they sell. Therefore, most contracts happen behind closed doors and do not appear in the press.
On 16 May 2017, Alexander Lukashenka concluded a three day visit to the People’s Republic of China, where he met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and took part in the One belt, One Road International Forum.
Earlier, from 24 to 26 April, head of the Belarusian Security Council Stanislaŭ Zaś visited China to discuss several issues with important Chinese defence officials. This is yet more evidence of the Belarusian authorities’ strong interest in building a strategic partnership with China.
Only 5% of Belarusians want Belarus to become a part of Russia according to the fresh polling data by the Belarusian Analytical Workshop.
Chris Miller sees Moscow’s plans to make Belarus a cornerstone of its Eurasian integration project as unsuccessful.
Grigory Ioffe argues that realists winning the tug of war with idealists, both in the Belarusian government and in the opposition.
The opposition is split on street protests tactics. Belarusization has not ended and even increased, argues Alieh Trusaŭ.
At the One Belt, One Road summit in Beijing, Lukashenka suggested that the project could be used not only as a trading route, but also as a basis for promoting ideas and creating joint innovations.
According to foreign minister Vladimir Makei, during its CSTO chairmanship Belarus will focus on positioning the organisation in the international arena and strengthening its interaction with both the UN and the OSCE.
Belarus seeks to diversify its oil supplies, but refuses to mention alternative sources as long as negotiations are underway.
On 9 May in Washington, in a presentation at the American think tank Atlantic Council, Belarusian deputy foreign minister Aleh Krauchanka emphasised the importance of Belarus-US security cooperation.
Meanwhile, numerous Eastern European officials from Western-alligned nations made statements about their apprehensions regarding the upcoming Russian-Belarusian West-2017 military exercises. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė announced that West-2017 exercise is evidence that Belarus and Russia are preparing for war with the West.
Minsk, however, is playing its own game and trying to get the best of both worlds. It is using the exercise to extract benefits from Russia while attempting to assure Russia's opponents of Belarus's neutrality.
In late April, several Belarusian opposition activists publicly confessed their cooperation with the Belarusian secret services. On 27 April, a representative of the opposition organisation Youth Front, Siarhei Palcheuski, published a post on his Facebook page confessing to formal partnership with the KGB. His decision led several other civic activist to ‘come out’ as well.
The Belarusian KGB continues to function according to the model of the Soviet secret services. By employing oppressive methods, the state aims to control its citizens. The KGB is unlikely to change its methods of communication with society in the near future. Nevertheless, more people coming clean about forced cooperation with the KGB could decrease the level of oppression of the secret service structures.
On 12 April, Belarusian authorities arrested Vitali Arbuzaŭ, one of the most successful businessmen in Belarus. He was another casualty in Belarus's ongoing war against tycoons.
Being close to Lukashenka is by no means a guarantee of safety for oligarchs, and many prefer to register their companies and reside abroad. Those who cannot do so must demonstrate their support for the authorities in various ways and never make a misstep.
As the Belarusian state system is dominated by the security services, they spend their time and resources over-zealously pursuing white-collar criminals rather than improving the business environment in the country. This causes serious damage to the investment climate.
Belarus in Focus 2016 journalistic contest awards winners. Viva Rovar! cycling carnival takes place in Minsk. BAJ announces Free Word winners on Press Freedom Day.
Europe Week is held in Minsk. First episode of the City urban activism reality show is released. School of Managers will train new managers for CSOs. People detained and convicted during the May Day protests across Belarus.
Integration Forum announced in Viciebsk under the 5thAccessibility Week. This and more in the new edition of Belarus civil society digest.
Belarus is perhaps the world's second booziest nation. In 2014, Belarus topped the World Health Organisation's report on alcohol consumption. According to the WHO, an average Belarusian drinks around 17.5 litres of alcohol per year, while the median global consumption hovers around 6.5 litres.
Meanwhile, alcohol prices are considerably lower than in neighbouring western countries. Despite the government's attempt to set up a programme for prevention of alcoholism and rehabilitation of alcoholics, Belarus has so far failed to combat heavy drinking. Moreover, alcohol prices tend to decrease right before elections or during economic crises.
Cheap alcohol in Belarus has become a tool to neutralise activism and numb national consciousness. By decreasing alcohol prices, authorities guarantee themselves more loyalty and support.
Last month, the Pew Research Centre released its Global Restrictions on Religion report, which gauges barriers imposed by governments as well as social hostilities towards religious organisations. Out of the nearly 200 countries studied, Belarus ranked among the 'high-risk' group when it comes to religious restrictions.
In a regional context, Belarus fared worse than neighbouring Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic States, but better than in Russia. Rather surprisingly, Belarus scored relatively well with regards to the level of social hostility towards religious groups.
As another social survey demonstrated, all major Christian churches in Belarus enjoy a relatively high level of social trust. The Belarusian Orthodox Church, however, given its privileged position vis-a-vis state authorities, is more influential than others. Nevertheless, despite the significantly lower human and financial resources of other Christian confessions, Belarusians did show some trust towards them as well.
In recent years, the Belarusian leadership has been attempting to create a positive image of the country to attract foreign visitors. So far, Belarus seems to appeal mostly to Russian tourists.
Russians perceive Belarus as a nostalgic holdout of the USSR with quality food and good cheap ‘Soviet’ service. They see tourism in Belarus more as a trip down 'memory lane'. For several decades, most Belarusian health resorts have relied on Russian tourists for business.
On 1 May, Ukrainian border guards prevented three Belarusian citizens from entering Ukraine, suspecting them of planning subversive activities in Ukraine. A month earlier, Belarusian security agencies had detained several Ukrainian citizens for alleged plans to undermine public order in Belarus.
Nevertheless, both Kyiv and Minsk prefer to downplay such incidents, angry rhetoric notwithstanding. Both governments make consistent efforts to continue cooperation and development. The results of a meeting between the Belarusian and Ukrainian presidents on 26 April in Chernobyl demonstrate this.
On 4 May 2017 Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka declared that Belarus plans to gain approximately $50bn in exports off goods produced in the Great Stone industrial park.
Meanwhile, on 3 April 2017, Moscow and Minsk resolved all their disputes in the oil and gas sector.
On 18 April 2017, Belarusian prime minister Andrey Kobyakov announced that the Belarusian economy has avoided recession, with 0.3 per cent GDP growth in the first quarter of the year.
On 25 March, a record number of Internet users visited the website of the independent Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva. 109,000 Internet users read articles describing the protests against the social parasite law. In Belarus, this is nothing to sneeze at.
The state media either ignored the March protests or covered them in a negative light. Thus, the independent media became the only source of information for the public about the countrywide demonstrations against the social parasite decree.
Despite 120 cases of detention or arrest of journalists between 10 and 30 March, the independent media managed to cover the protests with great degree of professionalism. Due to the arrest of oppositional leaders in smaller cities, reporters found themselves in the spotlight.
Belarus’s recent regression in the human rights field has failed to visibly affect the intensity of its contacts with Europe. However, European governments seem to have taken note of the criticism they received for their initially meek reaction and have been voicing their concerns both publicly and (more often) privately.
Lukashenka’s ‘indiscriminate and inappropriate’ reaction to dissent may have affected the chances of Ambassador Alena Kupchyna to become the next OSCE head. Nevertheless, her personal qualities and professional qualifications may still play in her favour.
On 21 March 2017, the Belarusian authorities began a programme of repression against civil society activists, which is still ongoing. These measures followed mass protests of the population against the unpopular economic policies of the government, including the famous decree on 'social parasites'.
The work of the state propaganda machine goes hand in hand with this process. It aims to instil fear into the population with tales of terrorist and nationalist 'threats'. These stories also serve to justify the state's overblown response to the protests, as well as improve the image of law enforcement agencies.
Lukashenka-Putin negotiations, discussion at KCL, Belarus-China achievements – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In April, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed the results of negotiations between Putin and Lukashenka in Saint Petersburg, ways to respond to continuing political repression in Belarus, prospects for Belarusian-Turkmen relations, and achievements of Belarusian-Chinese cooperation over the last 25 years
The Centre, together with the KCL Eurasia Society and KCL Diplomacy Society, hosted a public discussion entitled 'Between East and West: What's next for Belarus?'
On 23 February, the administration of the Belarusian State University expelled the youth activist Yury Lukashevich. The former student claims that the reason behind his expulsion lies in his political activism and board membership in an oppositional party.
While the activity of independent youth organisations faces restrictions, the state-funded Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) receives an enormous amount of government money. BRSM is the largest youth organisation in Belarus and has a virtual monopoly on youth activism.
Nevertheless, despite a challenging environment and political pressure, independent youth organisations continue to promote democratic values and organise educational programmes and charity projects.