Belarusian authorities want higher impact from ideological outreach

December 05, 2016 8:45
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Recently, public institutions and government agencies responsible for ideology in Belarus have been under an extensive information attack. Ideology departments, pro-government organisations and political parties have faced an increased competition for dwindling state resources. The Belarusian government is likely to revise its ideology strategy in order to ensure greater feedback from the population and fine-tune performance criteria.

On November 29th, 2016, the Congress of the Belarusian Writers Union was held at the Belarusian State Philharmonic.

Controversies have shaken the state ideology sector, which was likely due to funding cuts and anticipation of further deterioration. For instance, independent media reported about alleged abuse of power and financial fraud by the deputy chief of administration in a Belarusian region. The controversy has affected some pro-government organisations he is a member of, including the loyal Communist Party of Belarus and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, which receives substantial support from the state.

Following the information attack on the ideology sector, GoNGOs and pro-government parties, media also reported about abuses in the Orthodox Church. That said, the government prioritises cooperation with the Orthodox Church to all other confessions and has a special cooperation agreement signed back in 2003. Thanks to the agreement, the Orthodox Church has some privileges and additional opportunities to reach out to the population.

At the Congress, which gathered over 500 participants, staunch writers appealed to the authorities to step up the state support for the Belarusian Writers Union members. Simultaneously, the Congress was marked by a conflict between some participants and the police. The public row involving writers is likely to reduce drastically their prospects for increased support from the state and will give the authorities additional opportunity to criticise their activity.

The state encourages competition in the ideological sector and demands greater involvement and visible results in ensuring people’s loyalty to the Belarusian authorities.

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Economic growth in Belarus may be delayed until 2018
January 23, 2017 11:13
Image: Novy Chas

The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row, in 2016, by 2.6%. Before 2015, the Belarusian economy was growing for 18 consecutive years. In order to stop the economic slump, Belarus needs a favourable international market situation and to settle all trade disputes with Russia. The Belarusian economy is unlikely to recover before 2018.

According to the preliminary reports, in 2016, Belarus had a 2.6% GDP decline. The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row – a 3.8% decline in 2015. Most economic indicators in 2016, except in agriculture, had negative values. Wholesale trade had the most negative impact on GDP due to falling exports of potash fertilizers and petrochemicals, as well as construction, due to reduced investment in fixed assets by enterprises and decreased housing construction volumes.

In 1996-2011, the Belarusian economy was growing most rapidly, average GDP growth rate was 6.9% per year. In 2011, amid emission injections in the economy, disproportionate growth of wages against the background of low productivity and significant financial aid for loss-making agricultural, construction and industrial enterprises, the Belarusian rouble depreciated by three times. The absence of economic reforms and significant relative weight of state in the economy amid deteriorating external economic environment led to a sharp economic slowdown – circa 1% per year in 2012-2014; the slowdown was followed by the recession, caused by a slump in the prices for basic exports from Belarus and cuts in soft loans issued to maintain production volumes.

Belarus’ budget for 2017 is based on anticipated 0.2% growth. The expected decrease in the construction volume is circa 17% in 2017, which is unlikely to allow industrial growth with the renewal of fixed assets by legal entities. Even if wages grow, they will be offset by the 15% increase in utility tariffs by late 2017. Wholesale trade is largely dependent on the potash market situation and the oil processing volume at the Belarusian refineries. In view of the planned reduction in Russian oil supply in Q1 2017 to 4 million tons, wholesale growth is only possible provided the potash market situation improves. In late 2016, engineering output increased significantly, but amid the trade conflict with Russia, she may prioritise purchases from domestic manufacturers. In the given circumstances, Belarus’ GDP would only grow in 2017, provided the Russo-Belarusian dispute over energy supplies was fully resolved, Russia removed barriers for Belarusian exports and the potash market situation improved. That said, Belarus’ GDP in 2017 is likely to decrease by 0.5% - 1% and is likely to be followed by an attempt to overcome the recession in 2018.

The Belarusian economy has been in recession for two consecutive years. Amid anticipated decline in retail trade, construction and unresolved dispute over energy supplies from Russia, economic recession is likely to persist in 2017 and the economic recovery may be postponed until 2018.