On the eve of the winter holidays, Pact traditionally highlights some of the most prominent developments in and affecting Belarus civil society. List of events and trends presented in the Top 10, is far from complete, but it gives a picture of Belarus civil society in 2017.
Pact Belarus team
Issue of the Year: “Social Parasite” Tax
In 2015, Lukashenka signed a decree #3 imposing a “social parasite tax” on Belarusians without legitimate employment. Entrance of the decree into force resulted in mass civic reaction in the form of peaceful public protest in February-March 2017. Thousands of people protested the new law, which resulted in mass detentions but also in the suspension of the decree until 2019.
Campaign of the Year: BY_Help
Having started in March 2017, the BY_help campaign (Yulia Darashkevich, Lyaksei Lyavonchyk and Andrey Stryzhak) raised $55,000 from private and corporate sources inside and outside of Belarus to financially help Belarusians and their families who suffered as a result of the spring public protests, the White Legion case and other.
Trend of the Year: Spirit of a Dialogue
Top government officials are becoming ordinary participants at civil society events few examples of which are Minsk Dialogue conferences, Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, Global Entrepreneurship Week. Discussion of Belarus' Universal Periodic Review to the UN Human Rights Committee, Civil Society Parallel Forum on the foot of the 26th annual session of the OSCE PA in Minsk, and expert consultations on the national human rights plan are indicative of the dialogue spirit. Wishful thinking or reality?
Localization of the Year: Congress of Belarusian Studies
Having convened in Kaunas and Warsaw for the last seven years, the organizers of the International Congress of Belarusian Studies – Political Sphere – announce (tentatively) that the 8th congregation will take place in Minsk, Belarus. Preliminary dates are September 27-29, 2018. Main academic partner of the Congress is the National Academy of Science of Belarus. Pack your bags for Minsk!
Save of the Year: Kurapaty - Kotovka - Osmolovka
2017 was marked by a number of victories by civic activists to protect landmark site in Minsk. Two-week defense of Kurapaty mass executions site has led to investor’s abandonment of construction works. A public park in the Kotovka district of Minsk was saved by local community activists in Tiananmane square’s Tank Man style. Local residents of Osmolovka historical area of Minsk succeeded in the freezing of city’s demolition plans for the area.
Consistency of the Year: Social Weekend
Social Weekend celebrated its 10th consecutive open national competition for social projects to get local funding from both individual philanthropists and corporations. The competition is held consistently since 2013, since which time Social Weekend raised over $150,000 to support over 150 projects from among more than 2,000 applicants.
Media Lifeline to Civil Society of the Year: 34Mag
34mag.net youth online magazine led public communication to aid grassroots activism in 2017: simple-language articles helped local leaders break down public communication, guided them through how to organize a public event or an educational intervention, and showcased successful student campaigns in Belarus. Read up!
Civic Transport of the Year: Bicycle for Everyone!
Cycling activists were among most organized and visible civic actors in 2017. Viva Rovar! Carnival gathered together over 15,000 bicycle enthusiasts, while the 2nd International Cycling Festival and PraRovar Forum raised the cycling agenda to the public spotlight further. Belarusian regions were also active: more than 700 cyclists joined the Susedzi 2017 bike marathon in Grodno and Brest held its Vezdevelom international bike festival. Get on a bike when in Belarus, even if it is made of wood!
Scare of the Year: Zapad-2017
Circumstances and media brought anxiety to Belarus ahead of the joint Russian-Belarus military exercise called Zapad-2017. Civil society played an important role in providing civic monitoring, an alternative view points and analysis of possible scenarios. Despite the scare, Belarus wasn’t occupied.
And Now For Something Completely Different of the Year: Government of Belarus was the main - yet controversial - newsmaker of the year
Having opened up its borders and having cancelled visas for nationals of over 80 countries, GoB used force to disperse mass peaceful protests in the country detaining over 900 people. Authorities eventually closed the notorious White Legion case, although the trial of three Regnum authors continues. Minsk hosted the 26th session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly while suspending reforms-related talks with the IMF. Lukashenka legalized cryptocurrencies and approved a decree to arguably further ease doing business in Belarus, while the social parasite tax legislation is still on the table.