Visa Ban, Stuffed Animals Protest, Civil Society Champions - Belarus Civil Society Digest

Stuffed animals protest in Minsk (photo: zapraudu.info)

The debate launched by the Office for a Democratic Belarus regarding the fine-tuning of the criteria for applying the EU visa sanctions towards Belarusian officials was the most discussed topic for Belarusian civic activists this week.

Debate Regarding the Visa Ban. The initiative voiced by the Brussels-based Office for a Democratic Belarus to fine-tune the criteria for applying the EU visa ban lists to Belarusian officials went on to create a wide discussion in Belarusian electronic media. Among the most vocal debate participants are political analyst Yury Drakhahrust, BISS academic director Alexei Pikulik, ODB Head Olga Stuzhinskaya, former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich, Head of the Nash Dom campaign Olga Karach, Head of Human Rights Alliance Lyudmila Gryaznova, Head of Free Theatre Nikolai Khalezin, and others.

Tell the Truth youth wing organizes a stuffed animal protest. On 10 February the youth wing of the Tell the Truth campaign organized a protest in front of the Minsk City Executive Committee, the participants of which were stuffed animals holding different signs such as "Where is freedom of the press?" "Alexander, free the people!" and others.

Civil Society Champions-2011. On 7 February, the Assembly of NGOs held a third annual ceremony titled Civil Society Champions-2011. The winners are Gallery Ў (Venue of the Year), People's Journalist (Initiative of the Year), Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Registration of the Year), Center for Development of Voluntarism (Refusal of Registration of the Year), Campaign to collect signatures against adoption of the Law on Non-Commercial Organizations (Campaign of the Year), Strike of employees of Barysau Housing and Communal Services (Regional Event/Action of the Year), website Prokopovi.ch (Creativity of the Year), and Ales Byalyatski (Civil Society Leader of the Year).

The Public Bologna Committee statement regarding EU sanctions on university rectors. In its statement, the Public Bologna Committee campaigning for education reforms in Belarus condemns the country's system of higher learning as a "tool of the political persecution of dissidents" and stresses that the rectors blacklisted by the EU have ordered the expulsion of students on political grounds and deserve punishment.

Entrepreneurs advocate for introduction of arbitration courts. On 10 February the Association of Small and Medium Business together with a local chapter of United Civic Party held a round-table in Molodechno on issues of business development and elections. Business lawyers argued for the introduction of arbitration courts as a more efficient and cost-effective dispute resolution mechanism.

Business associations want to be heard by the authorities. On 9 February at a press conference in Minsk Chairman of Minsk Capital Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (MCUEE) Vladimir Kariagin reported that only 21 out of 104 points of last year's National Business Platform of Belarus were fully implemented in 2011, while another 31 proposals are in the final stages of implementation. The business community has shifted some non-implemented proposals to a new platform in the hope that their appeals will be heard by the authorities.

Web portal Green Belarus gathers signatures in support of the Park of the 40th Anniversary of October. The Belarusian Green Portal has started collecting signatures for a petition in defense of the city parks. The collective message will be forwarded to the governmental bodies, which are working with electronic appeals from 2012.

RAIK public report. For the first time the Republican Association of Disabled Persons in Wheelchairs released its Public Annual Report. The report includes a description of all activities and achievements in 2011. By publishing an annual report, RAIK aims "to show the openness of the organization, to tell about its successes".

Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities continues its regional No Barriers campaign. On 8 February the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities held a public discussion in Vitebsk under the No Barriers campaign. Two more regional public events are planned in Mogilev (15 February) and Gomel (6 February) with a final event scheduled in Minsk on 21 February.

International conference on children’s issues. On 15-17 February, Minsk will host the 3rd International conference on The partnership of government and civil society in Belarus to develop a system of protecting children from violence. The organizer of the Conference is the international NGO Understanding.

Children-topic conference in Gomel. On 4 February in Gomel, a scientific-practical conference, Solving Together the Problems of Gomel's children, was held. The conference organizers were the Belarusian Association of Women Lawyers and the Association and Gomel children and youth ASDEMO. Among the speakers there was a parliamentary deputy, doctors, teachers, and NGO representatives. The conference materials will be published.

Tell the Truth announces the Civil Contract. On 8 February, the Tell the Truth campaign introduced  the concept for its activities in 2012. The campaign plans to carry out activities under the Civil Contract, i.e. it agrees be a guide "for one's interest in solving specific problems, contribute to the realization of one's ideas and provide support to one's endeavors" (Andrei Dmitriev). The campaign announced a new phase of its activity: a willingness to decide national problems via solving local ones.

Press Photography in Belarus-2011 album is released. On 9 February, at the Gallery "Ў" a presentation of the Press Photography in Belarus-2011 was held. The album includes more than 200 works from 28 Belarusian photographers.

Competition for young Belarusians. Young Christian Democrats have announced a competition for young people to carry out a joint project with European youth. The main purpose of the competition is to give an opportunity for Belarusian students to communicate directly with students from elsewhere in Europe.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.

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