|DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage||5.95 100|
|DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score||1.36 7|
- Electoral Process rating improved from 1.00 to 1.25 due to a reduction in political violence and persecution of opposition figures, and the relative openness of criticism of the government in the October presidential election.
- Civil Society rating improved from 1.50 to 1.75 due to the release of civic activists from prison and an increase in political space for advocacy campaigns and fund-raising during the year.
By Yaraslau Kryvoi
July 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of Belarus’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. After a brief period of democratic transition in early 1990s, the country gradually developed into a consolidated authoritarian regime under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In October 2015, Lukashenka secured a fifth term in an election that observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) did not recognize as free and fair. However, unlike the December 2010 presidential election, the 2015 voting was not followed by violence or imprisonment of major opposition figures.
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine had an important psychological impact on Belarusian authorities. The government is increasingly concerned by Russian actions in Ukraine and is trying to distance itself from its eastern neighbor. Belarus is also suffering from the effects of Russia’s economic downturn. In an attempt to improve relations with the West and offset the influence of an increasingly assertive Russia, the Belarusian administration released all political prisoners in August 2015.
The release of prisoners and decreased state persecution of the political opposition contributed to a modest improvement in the country’s political environment. However, the executive remained firmly in control of all branches of power, with very little public oversight of its activities. The conflict in Ukraine persuaded both the authorities and a significant part of the population that political changes could undermine stability in the country, and this was used as a justification to stifle dissent and to preserve the existing political regime.
In October 2015, following the prisoner release and peaceful election, the European Union (EU) suspended restrictive measures against hundreds of Belarusian officials and other individuals seen as linked to human rights violations. Similarly, the United States temporarily lifted sanctions against several major Belarusian companies. After hosting important negotiations on the resolution of the Ukraine crisis, which culminated in a February 2015 summit attended by the leaders of Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine, Belarus had worked to intensify its contacts with Western Europe and the United States. It had also softened its anti-Western rhetoric, attempting to pursue a more balanced foreign policy and cautious economic reforms.
After the presidential election, most international observers praised the nonviolent treatment of political opponents, minor improvements in the election legislation, and opportunities for the opposition to campaign. However, nothing changed at the fundamental level. The authorities continued to abuse their monopoly on television during the campaign period; used administrative resources to increase the turnout of voters, particularly by coercing people to participate in early voting; and failed to conduct a transparent vote count, among other election irregularities.
The situation for civil society improved slightly in 2015, with more opportunities for advocacy campaigns, local fund-raising, and attempts by high-level officials to engage with civil society groups, especially on economic reforms. The release of all political prisoners in August also helped to open space for civil society activities. Separately, Belarusian authorities joined the Bologna Process on European standards for higher education, and began to encourage participation in pan-European research projects and networks, such as Horizon 2020.
However, civil society organizations still face significant challenges, including obstacles to registration as legal entities and the threat of criminal sanctions for operating without registration. Although new domestic fund-raising mechanisms are gaining popularity, the government maintains restrictions on funding for civil society organizations, particularly from foreign sources.
The authorities continued to suppress independent broadcast and print media in 2015, marginalizing the voices of those who disagree with the regime. Although state television has started to invite prominent opposition figures to prime-time talk shows more frequently, this has not changed the nature of public debate in Belarus. Foreign media outlets struggle to obtain official accreditation in the country. Internet-based media generally remain available to most users, but the government continued its policy of restricting access to some opposition websites at state-controlled institutions.
The authorities took a number of steps to address corruption in 2015, including adoption of a new anticorruption law, after a public consultation, and the implementation of a national program to combat crime and corruption. According to various enterprise surveys, Belarus is often regarded as one of the least corrupt countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, but implementation of anticorruption measures remains selective in practice and lacks transparency.
Outlook for 2016: The authoritarian nature of the political regime in Belarus will not change in 2016. The executive branch, with President Lukashenka at the top, will avoid implementation of significant reforms, though economic modernization is likely to continue without much fanfare. That would be in part a result of the gradual replacement of Soviet-minded conservatives with a new generation of officials, but also a response to major problems in Russia, the country’s main financial supporter. Economic and political pressures from an increasingly assertive Kremlin will lead to more attempts by Belarus to improve its relations with the West. The authorities can be expected to continue treating the political opposition and media without unnecessary brutality, while denying them the freedom necessary to change the political status quo.
|Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches.||1.251 7.007|
- The Republic of Belarus is proclaimed by its constitution to be a democratic social state, based on the rule of law, that admits the priority of generally acknowledged principles of international law and ensures the conformity of legislation with them. In practice, however, many democratic institutions are not functioning, and power is concentrated in the hands of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has effectively placed the judiciary and the legislature under his control. Lukashenka has ruled the country since 1994, relying on economic subsidies from Russia and the repression of political opposition and human rights activism. From this point of view, no major changes occurred in 2015.
- An economic downturn caused by failing oil prices and shrinking demand for Belarusian imports in Russia persisted during the year, particularly in terms of wages and purchasing power. In 2010 the authorities promised a monthly wage of $1,000 per month, but the real figure fell to $500 in 2015; instead of positive economic achievements, the president now pledges to ensure job security and protection from the Ukraine conflict.1 After 20 years of economic growth, Belarus lost ground overall in 2015, with gross domestic product declining by 3.9 percent in the first 11 months of the year.2
- Lukashenka emphasizes that any reforms will focus on improving the existing political and economic structures rather than replacing or dismantling them.3 At the same time, ministers in charge of the economy admit that Belarus has in fact started a number of economic reforms aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on Russia and attracting foreign investors.4 In 2015 government officials began to publicly recognize that the long-term development of Belarus requires property protections, separation of powers, and market-based competition,5 and there was growing evidence of quiet economic reforms.6
- The country’s governmental system is generally stable, as the bureaucracy and business elite are loyal to the authoritarian leader through inclusion in the distribution of rents and privileges.7 In 2015 there was no general consensus among political groups and citizens that democracy should be the basis for the country’s political system.8 Citizens’ trust in public institutions remained quite low.9 Observers noted the lowest recorded level of public willingness to protest, with only 9.3 percent of respondents saying they were ready to participate in meetings and pickets, and 1.6 percent saying they were ready to go on strike.10 The authorities continued their practice of refusing permission to hold mass events.11
- The executive plays a key role in policymaking; the president is the chief decision maker on most important issues. The structure of security organs remains largely unchanged since Soviet times,12 and legislation severely restricts public access to government information, especially regarding the military and security, much of which is classified.13 The bicameral parliament lacks the resources and capacity to fulfill its lawmaking and investigative responsibilities. In practice, the parliament mostly confines itself to rubber-stamping proposals prepared by the executive. The administration drafts nearly all legislation, which receives very little meaningful discussion in the parliament.14 It took the parliament less than an hour to adopt the 2015 budget.15
- 1. David Marples and Uladzimir Padhol, “Lukashenka’s 2015 Election Strategy,” Belarus Digest, 17 August 2015, http://belarusdigest.com/story/lukashenkas-2015-election-strategy-23074
- 2. Kateryna Bornukova, “2016 Will Be Tough, Reforms or No Reforms—Digest of Belarusian Economy,” Belarus Digest, 8 January 2016, http://belarusdigest.com/story/2016-will-be-tough-reforms-or-no-reforms-–-digest-belarusian-economy-24243
- 3. “Лукашенко: реформы в Беларуси будут направлены на совершенствование существующего, а не его ломку” [Lukashenka: Reforms in Belarus will be directed to improvement of the existing, not on breaking it up], Belta, 20 October 2015, http://www.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-reformy-v-belarusi-budut-…
- 4. Ihar Tyshkevich, “Как в Беларуси подходят к реформам: действия, структуры, внешние партнёры” [How reforms are approached in Belarus: Actions, structure, external partners], Hvylya, 14 November 2015, http://hvylya.net/analytics/geopolitics/kak-v-belarusi-podhodyat-k-refo…
- 5. Dzmitry Zayats, “Ручное управление экономикой довело страну до ручки” [Manual management of the economy resulted in a serious failure of the country], Naviny.by, 26 October 2015, http://naviny.by/rubrics/economic/2015/10/26/ic_articles_113_190130
- 6. Aleś Alachnovič, “Belarus Finally Reforms Its Economy?” Belarus Digest, 1 October 2015, http://belarusdigest.com/story/belarus-finally-reforms-its-economy-23364
- 7. Yehor Martynovych, “Дрозды №2: полный список чиновников, получивших участки общей стоимостью $10 млн” [Drozdy No. 2: Full list of officials who have received parts of the state property], Nasha Niva, 4 January 2015, http://nn.by/?c=ar&i=129566&lang=ru
- 8. According to public opinion polls, in September 2015 only 15.5 percent thought that the main problem of Belarus was the lack of independence and democracy, compared with 21.5 percent in 2006 and 17.5 percent in 2010. See “Пресс-релиз по результатам национального опроса в сентябре 2015” [Press release on results of the national survey in September 2015], Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS), 2015, http://www.iiseps.org/?p=3739
- 9. “Негативная динамика доверия институтам” [Negative dynamics of trust in institutions], IISEPS, 5 January 2014, http://www.iiseps.org/analitica/564/
- 10. Alyaksandr Klaskouski, “Власть переводит белорусов на контракт выживания” [The authorities are switching Belarusians to the survival contract], Naviny.by, 22 January 2015, http://naviny.by/rubrics/politic/2015/01/22/ic_articles_112_188053/
- 11. “Analytical Report on Human Rights, July–September 2015,” Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation, 2015, http://www.lawtrend.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ANALYTICAL-REPORT-ju…
- 12. Oleg Volchek, “Органы прокуратуры Беларуси нуждаются в серьезной и принципиальной реформе” [The prosectutor’s office needs serious and principled reform], Naviny.by, 19 October 2015, http://naviny.by/rubrics/opinion/2015/10/19/ic_articles_410_190071/
- 13. “Постановление Совета Министров Республики Беларусь 12 августа 2014 г. № 783 ‘О служебной информации ограниченного распространения’” [Council of Ministers decree, 12 August 2014, No. 783 ‘On the service information of limited access’], Pravo.by, 12 August 2014, http://www.pravo.by/main.aspx/main.aspx?guid=3871&p0=C21400783&p1=1
- 14. See for example the bill drafting plan for 2015, available at the House of Representatives website: http://house.gov.by/index.php/,7034,,,,0,,,0.html
- 15. Ryhor Astapenia, “Belarus Will Start the New Year with a Wishful Budget,” Belarus Digest, 24 December 2014, http://belarusdigest.com/story/belarus-will-start-new-year-wishful-budg…
|Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.||1.251 7.007|
- The constitution guarantees universal and equal suffrage and government by the will of the people, as expressed through regular, free, and fair elections conducted by secret ballot. However, elections on all levels are far from meeting international standards in practice.
- The 2015 presidential election was peaceful, unlike in 2010, though it was not regarded as free and fair by international election-monitoring organizations.1 The lack of violence against the opposition during the campaign and after the election became one of the reasons why the European Union and the United States suspended most of their sanctions on Belarusian individuals and entities. The warming of relations with the West also reflected Belarus’s increasing concerns about Russia’s more aggressive policies in the region.2
- The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that Belarus failed to address key deficiencies in its election laws in 2015. International experts praised reforms that increased donation and spending limits and allowed the period for collection of funds to begin prior to candidate registration. However, they found that the overall legal framework for elections could not guarantee a process in accordance with Belarus’s international commitments.3 Observers noted that the candidates were left with insufficient resources for meaningful campaigning,4 while the authorities used administrative resources as well as state budget funds to promote the candidacy of the incumbent president.5 The international monitors also reported that they were not allowed to follow all stages of the election process, such as signature verification and tabulation of results.
- Independent domestic observers questioned the validity of the results and called the election nondemocratic, citing evidence of both turnout and vote-count manipulations.6 Domestic observers also noted the election commissions’ lack of impartiality, use of administrative resources to favor the incumbent, and coercion of citizens to participate in early voting.7
- The signature collection and verification process for candidate registration is largely free, and the authorities do not interfere, but it is poorly regulated by the electoral code and lacks a clear procedure for the selection and verification of signature samples.8 Those in pretrial detention or serving a prison sentence are denied voting and candidacy rights, irrespective of the gravity of the crime. Although the 2015 presidential candidates could campaign throughout the country and convey messages to the electorate in a relatively unhindered way, campaigning was possible only in specially designated venues, and only after notification of the local government or election administration, which is not consistent with international standards.9
- The composition of territorial and precinct-level election commissions included a recordlow number of opposition members, who were unreasonably denied membership in nearly all cases. International experts also pointed to the absence of sufficiently detailed procedures for transparent vote counting and tabulation, and for publishing preliminary and final results with a breakdown by polling station.10 The observers were not allowed to check the accuracy of turnout figures announced by election commissions.11
- The authorities reported a record-high early voting turnout of over 36 percent of all eligible voters in 2015.12 Government agencies held meetings where employees were encouraged to vote early, and the same was done by university administrations, student dormitories, military units, and other state-controlled organizations.13 Districts with a higher prevalence of early voting in the 2010 presidential election had notably demonstrated not only greater turnout, but also greater support for the incumbent president. International observers noted that public servants and officials campaigned during working hours on behalf of the incumbent. Lukashenka also benefited in 2015 from endorsements by managers of various state institutions, including military officials and public servants.14
- Compared with the 2010 presidential campaign, the state-owned electronic media increased the airtime devoted to election coverage, but Lukashenka still dominated. According to the aggregated data, he received around 60 percent of all election-related time on the main state television news programs, with all such coverage assessed as very positive. Other candidates received nearly 5 percent each.15 Despite the increased media content and high official turnout rates, public interest in campaigning remained low, with many people expressing the belief that the political situation cannot be changed through elections.
- 1. “International Election Observation Mission, Republic of Belarus—Presidential Election, 11 October 2015: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), 12 October 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/191586?download=true
- 2. Yaraslau Kryvoi, with Andrew Wilson, “From Sanctions to Summits: Belarus after the Ukraine Crisis,” European Council on Foreign Relations, 5 May 2015, http://belaruspolicy.com/en/content/sanctions-summits-belarus-after-ukr…
- 3. “Republic of Belarus Presidential Election, 11 October 2015, OSCE/ODHIR Needs Assessment Mission Report,” OSCE, 28 July 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/174771?download=true
- 4. “International Election Observation Mission, Republic of Belarus—Presidential Election, 11 October 2015: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” OSCE, 12 October 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/191586?download=true
- 5. “Preliminary Final Report No. 6,” Right to Choose 2015, 12 October 2015, http://pvby.org/pravavybarureportn6eng-2.pdf
- 6. “Vote Counting and Election Assessment by Observers—Belarus Presidential Election Digest,” Belarus Digest, 27 October 2015, http://belarusdigest.com/story/vote-counting-and-election-assessment-ob…
- 7. “Elections of President of Republic of Belarus, October 11, 2015, Campaign ‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’ Analytical Report on Results of Observation,” Viasna Human Rights Center, 13 October 2015, http://spring96.org/en/news/80734
- 8. “Republic of Belarus Presidential Election, 11 October 2015, OSCE/ODHIR Needs Assessment Mission Report,” OSCE, 28 July 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/174771?download=true
- 9. “Monitoring: The Coverage of the 2015 Presidential Election in the Belarusian Media (Final Report),” Belarusian Association of Journalists, 27 October 2015, http://baj.by/en/analytics/monitoring-coverage-2015-presidential-electi…
- 10. “Republic of Belarus Presidential Election, 11 October 2015, OSCE/ODHIR Needs Assessment Mission Report,” OSCE, 28 July 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/174771?download=true
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. “Election 2015. Early Voting Turnout at 36% in Belarus,” Belta, 11 October 2015, http://eng.belta.by/society/view/election-2015-early-voting-turnout-at-…
- 13. Volha Charnysh, “Early Voting: The Secret to a Successful Authoritarian Election?” Belarus Digest, 9 October 2015, http://belarusdigest.com/story/early-voting-secret-successful-authorita…
- 14. “Republic of Belarus Presidential Election, 11 October 2015, OSCE/ODHIR Needs Assessment Mission Report,” OSCE, 28 July 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/174771?download=true
- 15. “Monitoring: The Coverage of the 2015 Presidential Election in the Belarusian Media (Final Report),” Belarusian Association of Journalists.
|Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups.||1.752 7.007|
- By the end of 2015, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were reporting a general positive trend in conditions for civil society and human rights in Belarus,1 noting in particular the release of political prisoners. A number of successful advocacy campaigns,2 improvements in the operation capacity of NGOs, and new local fund-raising mechanisms were also welcomed by observers.3 In addition, high-level officials no longer shied away from events organized by critically minded civil society organizations.
- According to a national survey conducted by the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS), the share of Belarusians who were aware of NGOs stabilized at around 50 percent in 2014–15, which was almost 20 percentage points more than in 2013.4 The portion of the population involved in public benefit activities is large and has remained on the same level (71–74 percent) for four years. Based on this data, the potential for public and social activism in Belarus appears high.5
- A total of 596 NGOs operated in Belarus as of January 1, 2015, and very few new organizations were registered during the year.6 Independent civil society groups face great difficulty in registering as legal entities,7 and Article 193.1 of the criminal code penalizes activities by unregistered organizations. A leading Belarusian human rights organization, Viasna, is unregistered in Belarus, as are a number of other groups. Over a hundred civil society organizations are registered abroad due to the legal and regulatory obstacles they face inside the country.
- Early in 2015, the Belarusian government maintained pressure on individuals who have been acknowledged as political prisoners by international human rights organizations.8 But on August 22, the authorities released six such prisoners: Mikalay Statkevich, Mikalay Dzyadok, Ihar Alinevich, Yawheni Vaskovich, Artsyom Prakapenka, and Yury Rubtsow.9
- In 2015, a number of crowdfunding platforms, such as Talaka.by and MaeSens, were used to raise money in Belarus for various activities, including publishing books and supporting museums.10 However, restrictive legislation generally makes it difficult to fund civil society initiatives, particularly those touching on sensitive political issues.11
- The largest NGOs remain under effective state control. These include the Belarusian Republican Union of Youth (BRSM), the Federation of Trade Unions, and the Belarusian Union of Women.12 The authorities also promote an alternative government-controlled organization for the country’s ethnic Polish minority.
- Political parties face significant difficulties when attempting to register and are typically forced to function as “political clubs” rather than formal parties.13 For example, the Belarusian Christian Democracy party has submitted documents for registration to the Ministry of Justice at least five times since 2007, without success. The group also finds it difficult to rent space for conferences.14
- Independent trade unions operate in a difficult environment and function alongside the state-dominated Federation of Trade Unions. However, in 2015 the authorities simplified the procedure for setting up trade unions under an ordinance signed in June.15 They notably removed a previous rule that a union must include at least 10 percent of all employees in a given company to receive recognition.
- The authorities continued to put pressure on members of “nontraditional confessions,” primarily Protestant groups. For example, Protestant ministers in Homel were threatened with criminal charges for activities on behalf of unregistered religious organizations. The houses and apartments of ministers have been searched by police officers.16 However, there were some positive developments during 2015. Minsk authorities for the first time allowed Protestants to gather for a large collective prayer event.17
- In 2015 government officials began to engage more actively with civil society organizations, which in the past were viewed as political adversaries. A number of high-level officials spoke at an event organized by independent Belarusian economic think tanks, including a deputy head of the Presidential Administration and the head of the Main Economic Department of the Presidential Administration.18 The authorities appear to have become more tolerant and even supportive of independent cultural initiatives, such as those aimed at encouraging the use of the Belarusian language and popularizing Belarusian national culture.19
- In May 2015 Belarus’s accession to the Bologna Process was approved in a resolution by European education ministers.20 As a result, Belarus formally entered the European Higher Education Area, which seeks to achieve consistency and the harmonization of national higher education systems in European countries. Although this does not necessarily guarantee reforms, it creates more opportunities for exchanges and international cooperation for Belarusian students and academics.
- 1. “Concerted Position by Belarusian Human Rights Organisations on Priorities in Shaping the Strategy of International Partners’ Relations with Belarus,” Viasna Human Rights Center, 28 January 2016, https://spring96.org/en/news/82095
- 2. Alesya Rudnik and Tatyana Chulitskaya, “Па-за палітыкай: магчымасці адвакатавання ў сучаснай Беларусі” [Beyond politics: Possibilities for advocacy in today’s Belarus], Nashe Mneniye, 27 August 2015, http://nmnby.eu/news/analytics/5863.html
- 3. Pact, “Top 10 of Belarus Civil Society in 2015,” Pact, 2015, http://www.pactworld.org/news/top-10-belarus-civil-society-2015. According to the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) developed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the score for Belarus in 2015 was 5.6, a 0.1-point improvement over the previous year. See “Індэкс устойлівасці арганізацый грамадзянскай супольнасці Беларусі 2014” [Index of sustainability of civil society organizations in Belarus in 2014], Actngo.info, 2014, http://www.actngo.info/sites/default/files/files/report_belarus_csosi_2…
- 4. “2015 Future Search,” Pact, 4–6 June 2015, http://belarusdigest.com/sites/default/files/pactfuturesearchreport_eng…
- 5. However, it should be pointed out that traditional forms of public benefit activity such as “subbotnik”—a day of volunteer work on Saturdays—are not always voluntary in practice. See Yaraslau Kryvoi, “Belarusians Forced to Work on Weekends,” Belarus Digest, 11 October 2011, http://belarusdigest.com/story/belarusians-forced-work-weekends-6117
- 6. Syarhey Korolevich, “В 2014 году в Беларуси зарегистрировано 86 новых общественных объединений” [In 2014, 86 new civil associations were registered in Belarus], Belapan, 9 February 2015, https://belapan.com/archive/2015/02/09/757861/
- 7. “Report 2014/2015: The State of the World’s Human Rights,” Amnesty International, 2015, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/0001/2015/en/
- 8. “Political Prisoner Yury Rubtsou Sentenced to Two Years in Penal Colony,” Viasna Human Rights Center, 28 May 2015, https://spring96.org/en/news/77531; “Mikalai Dzyadok to spend one more year in prison,” Euroradio, 27 February 2015, http://euroradio.fm/en/mikalai-dzyadok-spend-one-more-year-prison
- 9. Analytical Report on Human Rights, July–September 2015,” Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation, 2015, http://www.lawtrend.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ANALYTICAL-REPORT-ju…
- 10. See the platforms’ websites at http://www.talaka.by/projects and http://maesens.by/
- 11. “Belarus Civil Society Organisations in Cross-Sectoral Dialogue: Summary of Legal Environment Research and Expert Survey,” Belarus Digest, 2014, http://belarusdigest.com/sites/default/files/mapping_belarus_0.pdf
- 12. Anastasiya Matchanka, “Substitution of Civil Society in Belarus: Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations,” Journal of Belarusian Studies, Issue 67, 2014, http://belarusjournal.com/article/substitution-civil-society-belarus-go…
- 13. Volha Charnysh, “Political Opposition in Belarus: Movements Instead of Parties,” Belarus Digest, 13 May 2015, http://belarusdigest.com/story/political-opposition-belarus-movements-i…
- 14. “BCD Was Denied a Possibility to Hold the Registration Congress Indoors,” Belarusian Christian Democracy, 21 May 2015, http://bchd.info/index.php?newsid=9597
- 15. “Easier Terms for Setting Up Trade Unions in Belarus,” Belta, 2 June 2015, http://eng.belta.by/president/view/easier-terms-for-setting-up-trade-un…
- 16. “Homieĺ Priests Threatened with Criminal Charges under Article 193.1,” Viasna Human Rights Center, 26 June 2015, https://spring96.org/en/news/78046
- 17. Svetlana Belous, “Коллективная молитва в стенах ‘Чижовка-Арены.’ Репортаж с собрания евангелистов” [Collective prayer in the ‘Chizhovka-Arena.’ Reporting from the assembly of evangelicals], TUT.by, 31 May 2015, http://news.tut.by/society/449984.html
- 18. “Conference Agenda—Economy of Belarus: At a Tipping Point,” Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum, 3–4 November 2015, http://eng.kef.research.by/conference/program/
- 19. “Вялікі трэнд” [The big trend], Kultura, 29 March 2015, http://www.kimpress.by/index.phtml?page=2&id=11313&DomainName=cult
- 20. “Belarus’ Accession to Bologna Process Approved by European Education Ministers,” Belta, 14 May 2015, http://eng.belta.by/society/view/belarus-accession-to-bologna-process-a…
|Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media.||1.251 7.007|
- The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits censorship. A wide range of national and local television broadcasters as well as a number of print media outlets function in the country.1 According to the Ministry of Information, there are 1,586 print outlets, 273 broadcast stations, and nine news agencies. However, in practice state-owned media dominate the landscape and are subsidized by the government; in addition, state bodies and state-owned organizations are obliged to subscribe to state media.
- The distribution of newspapers is controlled by the state through the state-owned postal system Belpochta and the kiosk distribution network Belsayuzdruk. In 2015 Belpochta refused to carry independent newspapers including Barysawskiya Naviny, Intex-press, and Novy Chas.2 It is possible to buy some independent papers, such as Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva, but the state distribution system imposes caps on the number of copies that can be distributed. Some independent newspapers have switched to internet-only publication because of printing and distribution restrictions.3
- During the 2015 presidential election campaign, instead of covering the competition between different political forces and platforms, the state-owned media focused on technical aspects of the election process, including preparation of voting places and the related activities of local authorities. Although the independent media covered the presidential candidates and opponents of the regime, their very limited readership and the general sense that the outcome was predetermined meant that there was no lively debate in the society.4
- The authorities seek to further limit access to online media. A series of amendments to the law on mass media that were signed in December 2014 took effect in January 2015, expanding the government’s powers to ban websites and allowing blocks on those deemed harmful to Belarus’s “national interests,” among other provisions.5 According to a regulatory directive that came into force in February 2015, 6 the authorities can also restrict access to proxy servers and anonymizers, which users have employed to circumvent existing obstructions and reach blocked websites. In what was reportedly the first application of the “national interests” clause to an online media outlet, the Ministry of Information restricted access to KYKY.org online journal in June.7
- Until August 2015, the authorities imposed a series of fines on journalists for contributing to foreign media without accreditation.8 However, after independent reporters publicly complained to Lukashenka in August administrative prosecutions of freelance journalists who contributed to foreign outlets ceased.9,
- In February the Ministry of Information issued warnings to the independent regional newspapers Intex-press, Hantsavitski Chas, Borisovskiye Novosti, Reklamny Borzhomi, and Hazeta Slonimskaya, mostly for minor infractions like abbreviating the ministry’s name.10 In August, Hazeta Slonimskaya faced an administrative proceeding and possible fines for “dissemination of untruthful information that damages the honor and dignity of the Belarusian president.”11
- In the course of the 2015 presidential election campaign, state media dedicated most coverage to the incumbent. However, other candidates were given opportunities to convey their messages to the public in two blocs on the main television and radio channels, and major state-funded newspapers published all candidates’ election programs.12
- 1. “Republic of Belarus Presidential Election, 11 October 2015, OSCE/ODHIR Needs Assessment Mission Report,” OSCE, 28 July 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/174771?download=true
- 2. Analytical Report on Human Rights, July–September 2015,” Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation, 2015, http://www.lawtrend.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ANALYTICAL-REPORT-ju…
- 3. “Belarus 2014 Human Rights Report,” U.S. Department of State, 2014, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/236714.pdf
- 4. “Monitoring: The Coverage of the 2015 Presidential Election in the Belarusian Media (Final Report),” Belarusian Association of Journalists, 27 October 2015, http://baj.by/en/analytics/monitoring-coverage-2015-presidential-electi…
- 5. “Поправки к закону о СМИ: суть и предполагаемые последствия” [Amendments to the law on the mass media: Essence and expected consequences], Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation, 24 December 2014, http://www.lawtrend.org/information-access/popraki-k-zakonu-o-smi-sut-i…
- 6. “Ministry of Information to Be Able to Restrict Access to Websites in 3 Days,” Euroradio, 25 February 2015, http://euroradio.fm/en/ministry-information-be-able-restrict-access-web…
- 7. “Мининформ блокирует KYKY.org. Что мы будем делать и где нас можно читать” [Mininform blocks KYKY.org. What we will be doing and where you can read us], KYKY.org, 18 June 2015, http://kyky.io/life/ministerstvo-informatsii-zablokirovalo-kyky-org-cht…
- 8. Tatiana Korovenkova, “В белорусской медиасфере опять подзакрутили гайки” [In Belarusian mediasphere the screws have been tightened again], Naviny.by, 1 February 2016, http://naviny.by/rubrics/society/2016/2/1/ic_articles_116_190871/print/
- 9. Barys Haretski, “Итоги 2015 года. Штрафы фрилансерам,” [2015 results. Fines for freelancers], Belarusian Association of Journalists, 1 December 2015, http://baj.by/ru/analytics/itogi-2015-goda-shtrafy-frilanseram
- 10. Artsiom Martynovich, “Two Letters Get Newspaper Warned, Four Letters Can Get It Suspended,” Euroradio, 6 March 2015, http://euroradio.by/en/two-letters-get-newspaper-warned-four-letters-ca…
- 11. Ina Studzinskaya, “Газету Слонімскую’ падазраюць у зьнявазе гонару і годнасьці прэзыдэнта” [‘Hazeta Slonimskaya’ is suspected of defamation of the president], Radyo Svaboda (RFE/RL), 5 August 2015, http://www.svaboda.org/content/article/27172374.html
- 12. “International Election Observation Mission, Republic of Belarus—Presidential Election, 11 October 2015: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions,” OSCE, 12 October 2015, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/191586?download=true
|Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.||1.251 7.007|
- The constitution provides for local government institutions, but they are not autonomous bodies responsible to the local community. There are several tiers of local councils and executive committees, with each directed and supervised by those above it in the hierarchy.
- Subnational executive bodies have no direct democratic legitimacy, since they are formed and controlled by, and accountable to, the president and central government. The executive chairman at the regional (voblasts) level is usually appointed personally by the president, and usually from among his closest associates.
- Local governments have been granted some authority to set the rates of certain taxes and issue exemptions and concessions. However, these competences do not allow the financial independence of local governments and their budgets, as local finance remains part of a national system administered by the central government. Revenues and expenditures in local budgets are determined and approved in a centralized manner. The principle of fiscal decentralization has an essentially declarative character in Belarus.
- Belarusian law guarantees citizen input and transparency, as it endorses the principle of openness, due regard for citizen opinion, and full information on local decision-making. According to the law, the councils are accountable and responsible to citizens, and deputies are obliged to receive citizens at least once a month. In practice, however, accountability of local governments to citizens is virtually absent. Similarly, the law permits citizens to visit sessions of the councils and initiate draft decisions or propose their initiation, amendment, or abolition, but in reality the session agendas and results are almost never open to the public.
- The last local elections in 2014 demonstrated that the population is not interested in local politics and does not see local political activism as a means of solving common problems.1 Political parties, both opposition and progovernment, almost disappeared from the local councils. Only a handful of deputies affiliated with the opposition currently occupy meaningful positions at the local level.
- Belarus lacks a single approach to the development of local governance, which adversely affects the creation of relevant legislation and the coordination and implementation both national and regional programs.2 Training in the field of local self-government is virtually absent.3 Regional councils are almost completely dominated by the heads of state enterprises and organizations, who hold 75–90 percent of the seats.4 A narrow group of state bureaucrats cannot represent all parts of society, so the councils instead serve as a mechanism for communication among elites and assist the local executive.
- In 2015 the Hrodna region was the first to establish an association of local councils. The law has provided this opportunity since 2010, but no council had taken the initiative. However, the statements of those who created the association indicate that it was designed not to extend democratic principles or the autonomy of local government, but to improve the positions of regional elites and their opportunities for external cooperation.5
- 1. “Местная политика как форма региональной общественной жизни” [Regional politics as a form of regional societal life], Silnye Novosti, 14 April 2014, http://odsgomel.org/rus/article/society/50848/
- 2. Oleg Mazol, “Местное самоуправление в Республике Беларусь” [Regional self-governance in the Republic of Belarus], Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), 2015, http://belaruspolicy.com/ru/content/mestnoe-samoupravlenie-v-respublike…
- 3. Miroslav Kobasa, “Местное самоуправление в Беларуси—как превратить миф в реальность” [Regional self-governance in Belarus—How to turn a myth into reality], in “Cборник аналитических документов в области публичного администрирования” [Collection of analytical instruments in the field of public administration], School of Young Managers in Public Administration (Sympa), 2012, http://www.sympa-by.eu/sites/default/files/library/booklet_all_a5_small…
- 4. Andrey Kazakevich and Vadzim Smok, “Алігархія ці вертыкаль? Рэгіянальныя эліты ў Беларусі: эвалюцыя ў 1999–2014 гадах на прыкладзе абласных Саветаў” [Oligarchy or vertical? Regional elites in Belarus: Evolution in 1999–2014, the case of the local councils], Institute of Political Studies “Political Sphere,”
- 5. Tatsyana Lazowskaya, “Зрабілі першы крок” [They made the first step], Zvyazda.by, 11 March 2015, http://zviazda.by/2015/03/74866.html
|Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.||1.001 7.007|
- Formally, the constitution and legislation provide protections for fundamental political, civil, and human rights, but many of those protections do not function in practice. The judicial branch, like the legislative, remains almost entirely dependent on the executive. As is the case with other state officials in Belarus, the salaries, bonuses, and benefits of judges are defined by the Presidential Administration. Other conditions subject to the will of the executive include judges’ right to improve their living situation and access to preferential housing loans.
- Presidential powers also extend to disciplinary proceedings and sanctions against judges.1 In 2015 the president dismissed four judges from the economic court for “actions not compatible with the high position of judge.” However, the authorities have not revealed further information on the alleged misdeeds.2
- The authorities continue to use courts for the preventive detention of political activists.3 Although the authorities released all political prisoners before the 2015 presidential election, the move can be considered temporary and tactical rather than a permanent renunciation of all such detentions. During their whole period of imprisonment, the political detainees faced pressure and harsh conditions.4 Judges typically uphold local authorities’ decisions to ban mass events when they are challenged in court.5
- Acquittals in criminal cases are extremely rare. Statistics published by the Supreme Court in August 2015 showed that during the first half of the year, the acquittal rate fell to 0.26 percent, compared with 0.4 percent the previous year.6 In 2015 the courts continued to violate the rights of Belarusian-speaking people, regularly denying motions to conduct legal proceedings in Belarusian.7
- Violations of the rights of prisoners remain a serious problem in Belarus. Although prison conditions have generally improved in recent years,8 inmates’ right to contact citizens and institutions outside prison is restricted.9 The penal system in Belarus remains under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs rather than the Ministry of Justice, which increases the risk of human rights violations, according to observers.10
- 1. Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), “Summary of the Evaluation Report on Belarus,” Council of Europe, 3 February 2014, https://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/greco/evaluations/round2/GrecoEva…
- 2. Katerina Borisevich, “Президент уволил четырех судей экономического суда” [President dismissed four judges of the economic court], Komsomolskaya Pravda (Belarus), 8 July 2015, http://www.kp.by/daily/26403/3279381/
- 3. “Суд над актывістамі, якія мелі намер паехаць у Менск на ‘шэсьце нацыянальнага сьцяга’ перанесены” [Court proceedings over activists who were planning to come to Minsk for the ‘national flag rally’], Viasna Human Rights Center, 21 October 2015, https://spring96.org/be/news/80898
- 4. “Эксперт ООН в области прав человека предупредил об ухудшении положения политических заключенных в Беларуси в преддверии выборов” [UN expert in charge of human rights alarmed that conditions of political prisoners in Belarus have worsened in the run-up to the elections], Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 11 June 2015, http://www.ohchr.org/RU/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16067&…
- 5. “Analytical Report on Human Rights, July–September 2015,” Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation, 2015, http://www.lawtrend.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ANALYTICAL-REPORT-ju…
- 6. “Статистические данные о деятельности судов за 1-е полугодие 2015 года” [Statistical data about activities of courts in the 1st half of 2015], Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus, http://court.by/justice/press_office/d89fcdae29ca3d1c.html
- 7. “Analytical Report on Human Rights, July–September 2015,” Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation, 2015, http://www.lawtrend.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ANALYTICAL-REPORT-ju…
- 8. Adarya Gushtyn, “В тюрьмах условия стали лучше. Теперь там почти как в армии” [Conditions in prisons have improved. Now it is almost like in the army], Naviny.by, 4 June 2015, http://naviny.by/rubrics/society/2015/06/04/ic_articles_116_189042/
- 9. “Павел Сапелка: МУС адвольна, без дастатковага абгрунтавання скарачае і без таго абмежаваныя правы зняволеных” [Pavel Sapelka: Ministry of Internal Affairs arbitrarily, without justification, limits the already limited rights of the imprisoned], Viasna Human Rights Center, 14 August 2015, http://spring96.org/be/news/79236
- 10. Artur Smirnov, “Беларусь: Минюст за пенитенциарную систему не ручается” [Belarus: Ministry of Justice does not vouch for the penitentiary system], Deutsche Welle, 27 February 2015, http://tinyurl.com/pgyup44
|Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.||1.752 7.007|
- The authorities and the public display a high intolerance for official corruption. Although petty corruption, such as bribery of police or customs officials, remains relatively uncommon in Belarus, higher-level corruption is more difficult to detect and represents a serious problem. Much of the economy is still controlled by the state, which creates fertile ground for graft. However, according to various international organizations, Belarus performs better than Ukraine or Russia when it comes to corruption.1
- Belarus has addressed in a satisfactory manner only four of the 24 recommendations listed in a 2012 report by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption. The country has achieved progress on the training and specialization of law enforcement personnel, consideration of a new mechanism for confiscation of assets, and the introduction of accounting and reporting obligations based on international standards, but reforms have not moved forward in other areas.2
- According to a 2015 survey of Belarusian businesses, the areas most affected by corruption are governance and the ability to settle disputes in court; the least affected are the country’s economic growth, foreign investment, and the development of domestic markets. Some 67 percent of businesses reported that the situation with corruption had not changed over the past year.3
- A large part of the Belarusian economy remains in the shadows, as companies avoid paying taxes and social security contributions.4 Belarusian entrepreneurs think that the initiative for corrupt activities usually comes from state officials, according to opinion surveys. However, compared with previous years, fewer respondents in 2015 felt that only officials were responsible for corruption.5 The three sectors identified as most subject to corruption were construction, manufacturing, and finance.6 The authorities have recently initiated a number of high-profile anticorruption cases, partly in these sectors. For example, several directors of state textile-manufacturing enterprises as well as the head of the state association of textile producers faced charges in 2015 and were awaiting trial at year’s end.7
- In July 2015 the president signed the law “On Combating Corruption,”8 which introduced additional incentives and controls to reduce corrupt behavior by officials. Among other provisions, the law offers citizens an opportunity to take part in the drafting of rules and the activity of anticorruption bodies, penalizes officials for taking bribes by withdrawing their pensions, requires property declarations to account for the assets of officials’ children.
- The new law is particularly focused on strengthening state oversight of the income of officials and their relatives.9 However, asset declarations and other such data remain hidden from the public. Prior to the law’s passage, the prosecutor general argued that it was unnecessary and unethical to require public officials to publish information about their income.10
- During the drafting process for the anticorruption law, the Prosecutor General’s Office organized a public discussion on its content, and public authorities and other organizations submitted more than 300 proposals, some of which were incorporated into the legislation.11 The Prosecutor General’s Office also reported that it had intensified enforcement of existing anticorruption rules, conducting hundreds of inspections that led to more warnings and criminal investigations compared with 2014.12
- In early 2015 it was reported that more than 60 officials had been under investigation for corruption over the previous year, including eight people from the president’s “reserve list” of the most trusted officials.13 The Prosecutor General’s Office found that during the last nine months of 2015, the number of corruption crimes in Minsk decreased by 20 percent, with half of the crimes involving bribery.14
- The authorities developed annual plans to implement the national Program to Combat Crime and Corruption. The measures include organizing educational programs for state bodies and other institutions to study the issues of anticorruption legislation, as well as annual monitoring of public opinion on the performance of regulatory agencies and courts, which can be used to improve their efficiency and public confidence in their integrity.15
Author: Yaraslau Kryvoi
Dr. Yaraslau Kryvoi is director of the Ostrogorski Centre, editor of Belarus Digest, and associate professor at the University of West London. Born in Belarus, he holds degrees from St. Petersburg State University, Nottingham University, Moscow State Law Academy, and Harvard Law School. He has published extensively on law and policy in Belarus, Russia, and other countries in the former Soviet Union. His personal website is http://kryvoi.net.
The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.
- 1. See, for example, “Rule of Law Index 2015,” World Justice Project, 2015, http://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/roli_2015_0.pdf; “Enterprise Surveys: Corruption,” World Bank Group, 2012–2013, http://www.enterprisesurveys.org/data/exploretopics/corruption; “Corruption Perceptions Index 2015,” Transparency International, 2015, https://www.transparency.org/cpi2014/results
- 2. “Council of Europe’s Anti-Corruption Group Report on Belarus; Implementation Disappointing, It Says,” FTSE Global Markets, 27 May 2015, http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/news/council-of-europes-anti-corruptio…
- 3. “Інфаграфіка ад часопісу ‘Ідэя’: Што беларускі бізнес думае пра карупцыю” [Infographics from the ‘Idea’ journal: What does Belarusian business think of corruption], IPM Research Center, 30 July 2015, http://www.research.by/press-centr/news/1510/
- 4. Siarhei Bohdan, “Belarusian Government: Strong on the Opposition, Weak on the Shadow Economy,” Belarus Digest, 10 November 2015, http://belarusdigest.com/story/belarusian-government-strong-opposition-…
- 5. Andrey Skriba and Darya Uryutina, “Состояние коррупции в Беларуси в восприятии малого и среднего бизнеса” [The state of corruption in Belarus as perceived by small and medium business], IPM Research Center, 2015, http://www.research.by/webroot/delivery/files/english/pdp/pdp2015r02.pdf
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Inna Severin, “В Гродно суд слушает дело о коррупции в ‘Беллегпроме’: взятки—от 36 тысяч до миллиона евро” [In Hrodna the court is considering a case dealing with corruption in Bellegprom: Bribes from 36 thousand to one million euros], TUT.by, 2 November 2015, http://news.tut.by/society/471096.html
- 8. “Закон Республики Беларусь о борьбе с коррупцией 15 июля 2015 № 305-З” [Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Combating Corruption” No. 305-Z, adopted on 15 July 2015], Pravo.by, 23 July 2015, http://www.pravo.by/main.aspx?guid=12551&p0=H11500305&p1=1
- 9. “Belarus President Signs Anti-Corruption Law,” Belta, 20 July 2015, http://eng.belta.by/president/view/belarus-president-signs-anti-corrupt…
- 10. “Генпрокурор: Публиковать декларации о доходах чиновников—не совсем этично” [Prosecutor General: It is not really ethical to publish income declarations of officials], TUT.by, 9 April 2015, http://finance.tut.by/news443368.html
- 11. “Генеральной прокуратурой подведены итоги общественного обсуждения проекта Закона Республики Беларусь ‘О борьбе с коррупцией’” [Prosecutor general has summed up the social discussions of the draft bill of the Republic of Belarus ‘On Combatting Corruption’], Prosecutor General’s Office, 18 December 2014, http://www.prokuratura.gov.by/main.aspx?guid=22047
- 12. “В Генеральной прокуратуре состоялось оперативное совещание при Генеральном прокуроре Республики Беларусь по вопросам борьбы с коррупцией” [An operational meeting with the prosecutor general of the Republic of Belarus regarding combating corruption took place in the Prosecutor General’s Office], Prosecutor General’s Office, 10 June 2015, http://www.prokuratura.gov.by/?guid=30062
- 13. Vyacheslav Budkevich, “В 2014 году в поле зрения борцов с коррупцией оказались восемь лиц из кадрового реестра президента” [In 2014 anticorruption bodies focused on eight people from the staff list of the president], TUT.by, 29 March 2015, http://news.tut.by/society/441740.html
- 14. Darya Oryol, “Число коррупционных преступлений в Минске снизилось почти на 20%” [The number of corruption crimes has dropped by nearly 20 percent], TUT.by, 2 November 2015, http://news.tut.by/society/471038.html
- 15. “Программа по борьбе с преступностью и коррупцией на 2013–2015” [Program on combating crime and corruption for 2013–2015], Ministry of Internal Affairs, 15 March 2013, http://mvd.gov.by/main.aspx?guid=173163
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Global Freedom Score11 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score31 100 not free