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Belarus Reality Check
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

On October 22, 2018, over 50 international analysts, practitioners, diplomats and policymakers gathered in Vilnius, Lithuania, for the eighth Belarus Reality Check, a full-day review of the Belarusian economy, political and human rights developments, and changes in the regional security situation in and around Belarus.

Former Helsinki Commission Senior State Department Advisor Scott Rauland joined representatives of the IMF, the World Bank, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry, the EU Ambassador to Belarus, and dozens of analysts from Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, and other European nations for the event.

Political Developments in Belarus

During the first panel, presenters noted that sovereignty and stability remain top priorities for the Government of Belarus. Despite a great deal of work by the OSCE’s Office of Democracy Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in recent years, its recommendations to improve Belarusian elections have still not been implemented, and panelists were skeptical that any action would be taken before parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2020. 

Although the Belarusian political opposition remains divided and marginalized, several panelists believed that support for the opposition is growing.  Unfortunately, there was consensus that Russian malign influence in Belarus is also growing, primarily via Russian exploitation of social media platforms in Belarus.

The Belarusian Economy

The second panel featured four presentations that examined challenges facing the Belarusian economy and analyzed the country’s agonizing choice between beginning long-overdue reforms or remaining dependent on Russian subsidies for oil and gas to shore up failing state-owned enterprises (SOEs). 

Panelists pointed out that— due largely to those subsidies—the Belarusian economy has fared better than many of its neighbors for years, and that Belarusians enjoy a better standard of living than a number of their Eastern European counterparts.  Polling by the IPM Research Center has shown that a top priority for Belarusians, and thus for the Government of Belarus, is low inflation.  According to the same study, most Belarusians are satisfied with the current state of affairs. Should the subsidies end, Belarus could face a true crisis. 

Belarusian Foreign Policy

The final panel discussed Belarusian relations with its neighbors—strangely including China, but omitting the U.S. 

Positive trend lines were noted for Belarusian relations with all major countries except Russia, and international organizations have demonstrated increased interest in Belarus. In particular, OSCE Secretary General Greminger visited Belarus for a third time in 2018.  Anaïs Marin of France, recently appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus, remarked that progress had been made by Belarus on its 2016 National Action Plan on Human Rights, but described continuing Belarusian support of the death penalty as something that required continued scrutiny by the international community. 

One analyst took EU policy to task for “aiming at progress, not results.”  Russian policy in Belarus, he claimed, is intended to produce results—namely, to keep Belarus under control and on a short leash. 

Another panelist described the conundrum of trying to contain Russian influence in Belarus: “We can’t get rid of Russian influence (money) in Latvia or London; how can we expect to get them out of Belarus?”

In a concluding question and answer session, Rauland—who served as charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk from June 2014 through July 2016—asked the panel to comment on the diverging EU and U.S. strategies on Belarus, noting that the EU had decided to lift sanctions on Belarus completely in 2016, while the U.S. had merely suspended them while awaiting further improvements in human rights.  The panelist who responded to that question described EU policy as a mistake, noting that political prisoners had been released (the event which triggered sanctions relief by the EU), but that their civil rights had not been restored, something he felt should have been a condition for the EU completely lifting sanctions.

Answers to a question earlier in the day, asking whether panelists were optimistic about the future for Belarus, may have captured the range of views of the participants best of all.  “Yes,” replied the first to answer.  “I’m ‘realistic’ about progress,” replied the next panelist.  “And I’m an optimistic realist,” concluded the third.

The event was organized by the Eastern Europe Studies Centre with the support of USAID, Pact and Forum Syd, together with programmatic contributions from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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    Promoting human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption abroad can only be possible if the United States lives up to its values at home. By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the United States committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, even under the most challenging circumstances. However, like other OSCE participating States, the United States sometimes struggles to foster racial and religious equity, counter hate and discrimination, defend fundamental freedoms, and hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. The Helsinki Commission works to ensure that U.S. practices align with the country’s international commitments and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, racial and religious profiling, and other criminal justice practices; the conduct of elections; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

  • Justice Overseas

    Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption;  protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.

  • Max Kampelman Fellowships

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe seeks candidates for its Max Kampelman Fellowship program. Named for a longtime U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Kampelman Fellows represent the next generation of American leaders in security policy, human rights, and strategic communications. Kampelman Fellows join a team of world-class experts at an independent, bicameral, bipartisan, inter-branch federal agency. The Helsinki Commission advances American national security and national interests by promoting human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries. Fellows regularly interact and work on policy with Congressional offices, executive branch officials, foreign diplomats, civil society, and the broader policy community. Kampelman Fellowships last up to six months, with a minimum of three days per week. Fellows are paid hourly and are offered ongoing enrichment, professional development, and networking opportunities facilitated by senior commission staff. Policy Fellowships Policy fellows will work in political and military affairs, economic and environmental matters, or respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, based on their areas of interest, expertise, and needs of the Commission. Under the direction of commission policy advisors, policy fellows research policies and trends relating to international military, economic, and human rights commitments throughout the 57-country OSCE region; assist staff advisors with hearings, briefings, congressional delegations, legislation, and publications; attend congressional hearings, panels, and events; and perform administrative duties. Each fellow is expected to write at least one article for potential publication on the commission website during his or her fellowship period. Communications Fellowships Under the direction of the communications director, communications fellows support projects and initiatives in all areas of the commission’s portfolio. Communications fellows assist with media outreach activities; help publicize Commission hearings and briefings; staff Commission events; develop web content; and craft creative and engaging content to be shared on social media. They also assist with other special communications projects and perform administrative duties. Each fellow is expected to write at least one article for publication on the commission website during his or her fellowship period. Qualifications The Kampelman Fellowship program is open to recent undergraduates, current graduate students, and undergraduate students with previous internship experience. All Kampelman Fellowship candidates should have a keen interest in learning more about international affairs, the inner workings of Congress, and the relationship between the legislative and executive branches in the realm of foreign policy. Proficiency in a second OSCE language is an asset. Pursuant to Section 704 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, Pub. L. No. 115-31 (May 5, 2017), as amended, an applicant must be one of the following: (1) a citizen of the United States; (2) a person who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence and is seeking citizenship as outlined in 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3)(B); (3) a person who is admitted as a refugee under 8 U.S.C. 1157 or is granted asylum under 8 U.S.C. 1158 and has filed a declaration of intention to become a lawful permanent resident and then a citizen when eligible; or (4) a person who owes allegiance to the United States. Policy Fellows: A broad liberal arts education is ideal. Applicants should demonstrate excellent writing, analysis, research, and oral presentation skills, as well as an interest in government, international relations, and human rights. Communications Fellows: Candidates with a focus on marketing, communications, journalism, public relations, or related disciplines are encouraged to apply. Applicants should demonstrate excellent writing and editing skills; a good working knowledge of photography, cutting-edge web content management systems, and new media platforms; and an interest in government, international relations, and human rights. How to Apply Please send the following application package to csce[dot]fellowships[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov. Brief cover letter indicating the following: Why you want to work for the Commission, including relevant background or personal experiences Your specific areas of interest as they relate to the work of the Commission Your availability (start and end dates, as well as hours per week) Résumé of no more than one page Academic transcript(s) (official or unofficial) Writing sample of three pages or less In the subject line of your e-mail application, please indicate whether you are applying for a policy fellowship or a communications fellowship. Only complete applications will be considered. Please do not contact the commission to inquire about the status of your application; finalists will be notified if they have been selected for an interview. Deadlines The deadline to apply for our next cohort of fellows is Friday, March 12, 2021. Applications received after the deadline will be considered for the following cohort. Please make sure to include the month and year that would like your fellowship to commence in your cover letter. 

  • Our Impact by Country

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