On the eve of the winter holidays, Pact traditionally honors most prominent events in and affecting Belarus civil society in the past year. Please take a look at our take on the top 10 developments throughout 2016 (categories are in alphabetical order). Our categories vary from year to year because it is not our goal to track trends, but to highlight major events that take place in Belarus each year.
Pact Belarus team
Civic Start Ups of the Year: Press Club Belarus and Aleksievich’s Intellectual Club
In March 2016, Press Club Belarus was officially opened in Minsk. From the very beginning, the Press Club organizes numerous visible activities to serve as a professional platform for exchange of ideas and opinions between journalists, politicians, experts and opinion leaders. Pact also recognizes a civic initiative by the first Belarusian Nobel laureate – in December, Svetlana Alexievich launched her Intellectual Club in Minsk to “talk deeply about the main things”. 600 people registered to attend the first meeting but only 200 applicants could get there.
Event(s) of the Year: Minsk Dialogue Track-II platform
In 2016, the Minsk Dialogue, a permanent Track-II (non-governmental) expert platform, organized a series of the events to address the most challenging issues and foster international cooperation across existing dividing lines – review the Minsk agreements on the situation in Ukraine, Pan-European integration, post-Soviet protracted conflicts, 25 years without USSR, etc. The events were attended by high-ranking officials, experts and diplomats like Belarus’ MFA Head, Minister of the Eurasian Economic Commission, Head of EU Delegation to Belarus et al.
Grassroots of the Year: The City Urban Show
The City has become the first reality show in Belarus that offered an attractive format to present civic activism and motivate a wider audience to be active in community life. All the process, including the training of the leaders and their ideas’ implementation on the ground was recorded in 11 video episodes. Next year, the Centre for Cultural Management that designed and implemented the project launches the 2nd The City season.
Local Fundraising of the Year: Imena magazine
Launched in April 2016, The Imena/Names online magazine has become the first Belarusian public media entirely financed by the readers, without state or business support. The magazine’s stories about people in need cause a wide public resonance and motivate the readers to donations. Collecting money through a platform Talaka.by, the Imena has set two crowdfunding records – raising over $20K for its own activity and $34,6K for the Children's boarding.
Political Event of the Year: Two opposition MPs in the Parliament
For the first time over the last 12 years, two opposition representatives got to the Belarus’ Parliament – Anna Konopatskaya, of the United Civic party, and Alena Anisim, of the Belarusian Language Society. They gained seats in the 110-member House of Representatives as a result of the September elections. Critics allege, Alexander Lukashenka allowed the appointment of two independent deputies because of pressure from the West.
State “Fundraising” of the Year: Fines for Activists
According to the human rights center Viasna’s website, in 2016 Belarusian courts sentenced the activists and journalists to 415 fines in the amount of $148K – that is 3.5 times more than last year. Such a sharp increase in fines can be related to a fine-tuned tactics of the Belarusian authorities, who, instead of arrests use financial persecution against participants of protest actions and independent journalists, thus not causing a harsh reaction from the West.
Think Tank of the Year: BEROC
In 2016, Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) topped the Belarus Think Tanks Rating. Organized by Belarus Research Council (BRC), the Rating measures Belarusian think tanks according to levels of institutional capacity, information outreach, and analytical and research activities. The position of the rating’s leader BEROC is primarily related to the well-elaborated and extensive educational and research program.
Trend of the Year: Intensification of Contacts Between State and Civil Society
In 2016, public events organized by CSOs, were attended by top-level officials: Belarusian Prime Minister opened the Belarusian Forum co-organized by BISS; Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration and First Deputy Minister of Economy attended the 4th Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF, etc. A number of inter-sectoral consultations and events were held on human right issues (death penalty abolition, police monitoring, national plan’s adoption). CSO representatives had personal meetings with Heads of MFA and Information Ministry.
Volunteer Initiative of the Year: Environmental Action Zrobіm!
On April 9, 2016, an action on cleaning illegal dumps Zrobim! (Let's Do It! in English) attracted a record number of people – around 22,700 volunteers from 43 Belarusian cities and villages removed dumps and cleaned recreational areas in cities, forests, and beaches. The action is held in Belarus since 2012 and organized by Green Network, Center for Environmental Solutions, Interaction Fund, Minsk Cycling Society and government ministries.
And For Something Completely Different of the Year: First Ever Belarusian Billionaire
The business assets of the 39-year-old Belarusian and creator of the company Wargaming Viktar Kisly are estimated at $1.5 billion (by the Bloomberg Agency). The personal wealth of the billionaire is more than $1 billion. Wargaming with a signature product World of Tanks is one of the most successful companies in the field of online games.