For the seventh consecutive year Pact traditionally highlights some of the most prominent events, developments and people in Belarus civil society. Based on civil society achievements in 2018, we are happy to share our vision of top 10 events, organizations and activists that promoted reforms, introduced innovations, expanded a civic space and gave a voice to vulnerable groups. This list is far from being complete, and we are happy that every year it is increasingly difficult to choose the top 10 from among everything that is happening.
Pact Belarus team
Soft “Belarusization” of the Year: BNR#100
A large-scale celebration of Freedom Day dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People's Republic (BNR) took place on March 25, in front of the Opera Theater in Minsk and gathered – according to various sources - up to 50,000 Belarusians. For the first time in many years, this day was held as a festival and for the first time sanctioned by authorities in the down-town of Minsk. Organized by civil society and opposition political parties, a crowdfunding campaign to conduct the event broke the national record by the number of donators: over 2,000 people contributed $25,000 to cover event-related costs.
Engagement of the Year: Civil Society Gains Voice
The international forum Eastern Europe: In Search of Security for All, organized by an unregistered Minsk Dialogue Track-II Initiative in May 2018 to discuss challenges to regional and global security, was addressed in person by Alexander Lukashenka. Belarus top-officials were in attendance of other flagship civil-society events. Few examples include: Prime Minister Sergei Rumas opened the Global Entrepreneurship Week, GEW; First Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Turchin was a key-note speaker at the Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF.
Civic Action of the Year: Gender Initiatives
At least two noticeable gender-focused initiatives emerged in 2018 in response to actions of state officials. The sexist remark Lady, Comfortable in Daily Life in the state-run newspaper describing an independent female journalist became viral in social networks and gave birth to the eponymous Art project. The campaign March, Baby! originated after Lukashenka rejected law criminalizing domestic violence as ‘Western nonsense’, prepares a public march to show that the issue is pertinent to the mainstream society in Belarus.
Grassroots of the Year: People Take Action
The growth of local activism continues in Belarus, especially in the field of protection of residents’ rights. In the village of Kolodishchi, local residents resist the construction of a plant that threatens a green zone near their houses. In Brest, regular rallies gather hundreds of people to protest against the construction of a battery plant with potential lead emissions. Picketing in Kurapaty lasts for half a year: activists are seeking the closure of a restaurant built near the memorial to the victims of Stalin's repressions.
Fundraising of the Year: Imena platform
Imena (’Names’ in English) non-profit platform is known for its local fundraising success. Starting its work as an online magazine about people in need, Imena attracted over $700,000 to support social projects and its own operations. In 2018, together with a commercial bank, Imena launched a unique initiative: 0.5% of each bank customer's purchase goes for the Imena-sponsored projects. Now Imena is transforming into a fund that will help ad-hoc teams of activists develop from scratch into sustainable civic initiatives.
Inclusion of the Year: Sasha Avdevich and School of Inclusive Barista
Sasha Avdevich, a wheelchair user, is a bright example of how people with disabilities can live a full life. Sasha travels the world, runs his blog on YouTube and initiates projects for the “invisible” people to society. In 2018, Sasha created the first-ever School of Inclusive Barista, which helps people on wheelchairs get a new profession. One more civic start-up is implemented jointly with a local sneaker factory: for each pair sold, part of the money goes to charity.
Repression of the Year: Independent Media
In 2018, independent media became a focus of government persecution. During the year, over 100 fines were imposed on reporters – an all-time record. In August, a wave of searches of Belarusian major independent media’s newsrooms and detentions took place under the so-called BelTA case - a criminal investigation into alleged unauthorized access to paid services of the government-owned BelTA news agency. While 14 of the 15 accused journalists have been cleared of criminal charges having paid at least $35,000 in fines, the TUT.BY editor-in-chief is still under criminal investigation. Early in the year, an opposition website Charter97.org was blocked in Belarus.
’Never Before’ of the Year: Belarus Government Reports before the UN Human Rights Committee
Belarusian authorities presented a country report at the 124th session of the UN Human Rights Committee in October, in Geneva. The government last reported over 20 years ago despite the fact that Belarus is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is obliged to periodically submit reports on the implementation of the Covenant. Belarusian human rights coalition prepared an alternative report.
Research of the Year: Supporters of Market Economy More Than Doubled Over 10 Years
Half of the Belarusian society stands for partial or full market economy, according to the study that examined the values of Belarusians in 2018. Belarusians believe that the main task of the state is “to give an opportunity to earn money”. Thus, over the past 10 years, the number of people who share the principles of a market economy has doubled – a major shift in Belarusians’ mind-set towards paternalistic society? The study was commissioned by the IPM Research Center on the eve of Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, KEF.
And Now For Something Completely Different of the Year: Stepping on the Same Rake?
500,000 Belarusians are in the “social parasites” database. This is a list of the “freeloaders” or those who are not employed in Belarusian economy, composed in early December to correspond the president’s decree #1 On Employment. Recall that the previously canceled decree #3, imposing a “social parasite tax”, caused mass protests in 2017 across the country when tax authorities delivered “happiness letters” to 470,000 adult Belarusians. Lesson