The year 2015 is one more year of lost possibilities for the three main government non-governmental organizations (GoNGO) – the Federation of Trade unions of Belarus (FTUB), the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU) and the Republican public association ‘Belaya Rus’. Improvements in Belarus’ relations with the West have strengthened the need to imitate active civil society, as well as the need for a liberalization process in the country. During the presidential elections in 2015 the FTUB, BRYU and ‘Belaya Rus’ were implementing their traditional functions to guarantee an ‘elegant’ victory using well proved methods. They proposed nothing new or original within the social and economic crisis in the country, which unavoidably caused the decline of the authorities’ popularity. In fairness it must be said that nobody in the authorities has expected any innovations from their own ‘non-governmental pillars’. A reduction in the resources base resulted in a more neglectful attitude to the less needed non-governmental organizations. The results of the year 2015 revealed the undisputable outsider among these NGOs – ‘Belaya Rus’.
- Reduction in decorative functions of the GoNGO, since the imitation of civil society does not receive any further development with the help of any new instruments;
- GoNGO are losing the instruments of control over moods in social groups under their ‘responsibility’ due to general decline in the economic situation and shifting control functions to the security agencies;
- FTUB’s exclusion from any influence on governmental decisions concerning the labor market and social security;
- Decline of the political role of the RPA ‘Belaya Rus’ and loose any perspectives to become the ‘party of power’.
FTUB: Each year getting further from working people
Preparing and organizing its VII general conference, which was held on May, 22, became the core of the FTUB’s activities in 2015. During the conference the Federation again presented itself as a part of the Belarusian civil society, contrary to the ‘shirt-sleeve’ parties. During a number of years the Belarusian government has been unsuccessfully trying to ‘sell’ to the international community the idea about the existence of a developed civil society in Belarus, presented by such formally numerous organizations as FTUB or BRYU. However, these attempts had a practically zero result. In the electoral year 2015 the FTUB again did not present any argument to the international community for the existence of a developed civil society in Belarus.
The Belarusian leadership considers the FTUB and similar organizations as a reserve of candidates to the Parliament or local councils, a source of ‘independent’ observers for elections etc., as well as a guarantee that no representative of a “shirt-sleeve” party or an alternative part of civil society will take office within the public administration system.1 No change in FTUB’s or any other GoNGO’s role in organizing the electoral process occurred during the presidential elections in 2015.
From the ruling elite’s point of view, the most important role of the FTUB is to control the moods of personnel. It is no secret that the FTUB’s structures are completely integrated into the ideological vertical. However, now that the Belarusian social and economic model is in crisis, public trust in the official trade unions has started to decrease dramatically. The common practice of leaves of absence and part-time working weeks also complicate the work of the official trade unions at public enterprises. The lack of the FTUB’s capacity to control the employees’ moods in the context of expected future job cuts has become a significant problem for the Federation.
Given this situation, the country’s leadership once again has raised the old idea of establishing trade unions at private companies and enterprises. The former head of the FTUB, Leonid Kozik, apparently failed this task. Fully understanding that within the course of time the official trade unions are going to face more problems in implementing their tasks, the country’s leadership has used the traditional method of personnel solution, i.e. changing the head of the Federation. However, even after the appointment of Mikhail Orda in October 2014 as the head of the FTUB, no significant changes in its activities have occurred.
The VII general conference of the FTUB embraced the Program of the Federation’s activities in 2015–2020. Taking into consideration the economic results of the year 2015 and the first quarter of the year 2016, this Program is going to fail, particularly in the areas of growth of social standards of living, employment guarantees, unemployment policy, social protection for the unemployed etc. The same conclusion can be applied to the renewed General agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus, the national unions of employers and trade unions for 2016-2018, which was signed in December 2015. Nevertheless, the Program considers establishment of trade unions at private companies and enterprises. The Presidential Decree N 4 dated June, 2, 2015, which introduced changes into the Presidential Decree N 2 dated January, 26, 1999 “On certain measures concerning activities of political parties, trade unions, other non-governmental organizations”, aims to facilitate the implementation of such a complicated task. The results of the ‘trade-unification’ process in private business have appeared predictably more than decent. Even in spite of the absence of official statistics concerning the number of the FTUB’s members, one can make such a statement since the subject of establishment trade unions at private companies and enterprises was actively discussed in the country’s informational space within the context of the FTUB’s VII conference and the Decree N 4 dated June, 2, 2015.
Actually, the FTUB’s work in the year 2015 was evaluated by Alexander Lukashenko during his meeting with Mikhail Orda on December, 22. The president gave the first rank and highly praised the FTUB’s participation in the electoral campaign. Social issues were predictably blamed on external forces and circumstances. Taking into consideration the President’s reaction, the authorities had no illusions concerning the FTUB’s capabilities to successfully penetrate private companies and enterprises. This issue was delayed for future considerations. In general, the FTUB implemented its limited task to imitate active participation of civil society in the presidential elections in 2015, but did not manage to offer new effective activities in the rapidly deteriorating social and economic conditions. It is particularly significant that during the year 2015 the FTUB was not engaged in most meetings and consultations concerning the situation on the labor market and social protection.
BRYU: How is the Year of young people different from any other?
The BRYU plays a similar to the FTUB’s role in the Belarusian political system. On January, 20 Alexander Lukashenko traditionally delivered a speech during the 42-rd conference of this organization. One should expect that with the fact that the year 2015 was announced as the Year of young people, a certain review of the BRYU’s role on the current stage would be conducted. However, these expectations have never come true.
The attempts to ‘modernize’ the government’s policy towards young people and, respectively, the BRYU’s activities are related to the authorities’ concern about the events in Ukraine, where young people played a major role in the protests. The BRYU was instructed to increase its control over the mood among young people. However, the authorities preferred not to mention publicly the concrete forms of this control. Tougher control has occurred primarily with the help of different public mass events (which in the Belarusian reality almost always transform into obligatory activities, in many cases close to forced labor). Strengthening the social policy towards young people in the recessionary year of 2015 was definitely off the authorities’ agenda; correspondently, no one expected the BRYU to do it. The second important direction of the organization’s activities is intensive work in social networks. However, it is limited mainly with mass similar commentaries on a particular subject. In spite of doubtful effectiveness of this ‘flooding’ and ‘trolling’ in many experts’ opinions, the BRYU did not offer any new idea to develop these activities. In September the orders from the BRYU’s Vitebsk regional Committee to their employees and activists concerning the content of commentaries on certain articles in the Belarusian mass-media became a matter of public discussion. However, nobody was really surprised by this fact.
The authorities permanently try to present the BRYU as a kind of personnel reserve for future employment within the system of public administration. Alexander Lukashenko promoted this idea once more during the BRYU’s conference. However, during all the years of the organization’s existence no mechanism of such recruiting has been elaborated.
Thus, in the year 2015 the BRYU preserved its main function in the Belarusian political system: imitation of a developed civil society, providing governmental political presence (even if it is not effective) in Internet and formation a reserve for voluntarily-obligatory labor and mass character image at public events. No real review of the BRYU’s role and position occurred in the Year of young people; functions to control moods among young people are implemented mainly by local authorities and security agencies but the pro-governmental youth organization. It is significant, that even despite of authorities’ more attentive position towards young people as one of the most protest inclined parts of the society the government does not consider the BRYU as a reliable instrument for administrating youth affairs.
RPA ‘Belaya Rus’: the absolute outsider
However, it was the RPO ‘Belaya Rus’ who became the absolute outside among the three considered GoNGOs. The Belarusian Yearbook repeatedly argued that all discussions on Belaya Rus’ possible transformation into a pro-governmental political party have no grounds and real argumentation. However, without such a transformation, Belaya Rus has no place in the Belarusian political system.2 The year 2015 proved persuasively the complete validity of these conclusions. There have not been any discussions about the possibility of establishing a party political system in Belarus. Even during the first quarter of 2016, the year of scheduled parliamentary elections, the authorities did not consider it necessary to return to this issue.3 Moreover, according to official press-releases of the president’s press office, the Head of state did not mention Belaya Rus at all during the whole year 2015.
Actually, the organization’s decline was accelerated, when its head, Alexander Radkov, left his tenure as a deputy head of the president’s administration in December, 2014 and as a president’s assistance in May, 2015. Even in spite of his loyalty Alexander Radkov was taken off further considerations, while the position of his current employment – the head of Belaya Rus – apparently demonstrates the real status and perspectives of this organization. The reasons of this decline lie in an original flaw of Belaya Rus within the system of public administration in Belarus, which is quite close to its Soviet pattern. One of the differences is replacement the Communist party’s position with the ‘presidential vertical’. No other structure is required in such a system. It can be suggested that earlier the authorities considered the possibility of transforming Belaya Rus into a political party, as well as possible growing activities of other GoNGOs, in order to present it to external actors as decorative liberalization. However, since the year 2011 the authorities have followed another scenario, which seems to be fully confirmed in the year 2013.
All three GoNGOs – FTUB, BRYU and Belaya Rus – continued to play a marginal role in the Belarusian political arena during the whole year 2015. Nor the presidential elections, nor declaring the year 2015 as the Year of young people, nor improvement of Belarus’ relations with the West, nor deteriorating of the social and economic situation in the country changed this marginal position.
Imitation of a ‘developed civil society’ and liberalization in Belarus lie in the sphere of responsibility of different non-governmental and political organizations without any clear goals and more or less apparent financial sources, which have started to appear swiftly and in abundance after the presidential elections in 2010. The traditional GoNGOs preserved a ‘dirty job’ to legitimize (alongside with falsification) elections, to identify non-satisfied employees at companies and enterprises (however, even in this sphere the authorities mainly rely on security agencies) and promoting Soviet traditions in organizing leisure and cultural events.