Think Tanks: Relocation without suspension of operations

Natalia Ryabova


In 2021, the vast majority of think tanks were officially deregistered and deprived of the possibility to work in Belarus. Nevertheless, practically all the Belarusian research centers that were active as of the beginning of the political crisis in 2020 continued working, although mainly from outside the country. Since they were busy with dealing with organizational problems, they produced fewer products than in 2020.

Think tanks drastically reduced their interaction with the state, yet managed to reinforce themselves by employing some experts from public offices. Interaction within the Belarusian Association of Research Centers was reactivated, the Bank of Ideas was launched, and plans for reform proposals under the Belarus Beehive project were presented.


Repressions do not destroy the sector, but undermine its organizational capacity

A worsened operational environment for Belarusian think tanks in 2021 was expected. It was a popular belief that “political analytics will only have a free voice outside the country”.1 The reality turned out to be worse than the forecasts. Virtually all research centers were stripped of registration and, accordingly, could no longer operate in Belarus, which naturally resulted in a reduction in their productivity.

Research titled “Status and Actual Needs of Belarusian Think Tanks” was published in December 2021.2 It described the current standing of Belarusian idea factories, both those that worked in Belarus and those originally registered abroad, and analyzed their potential and problems they had to deal with.

Repressions against civil society organizations in 2021 were defined as “external conditions”. A number of researchers and analysts, including Tatiana Kuzina, Valeria Kostyugova, Vladimir Matskevich, Tatiana Vodolazhskaya, Oksana Shelest, Vlad Velichko and many others were arrested and criminally prosecuted. Think tanks faced a deterioration of the legal, economic and media environment in Belarus, discrediting by the authorities, and attempts to substitute them with loyal organizations.

In 2021, expert centers suffered from repressions, lost their registration in Belarus, and partially or completely relocated their staff to other jurisdictions. Only those, which were affiliated with the state and supported the authorities during the political crisis, dodged liquidation.

Nevertheless, practically all Belarusian think tanks which were active in the period of the beginning of the political crisis continued working. The organizational capacity of the research centers and the entire sector was severely undermined. Some people left or were jailed (repressions, fear, impossibility to work in Belarus, internal conflicts, escape to safer juristrictions), and infrastructure in Belarus was basically lost (registration, contracts with partners, registered projects on material and technical assistance, offices, a part of equipment). There were also problems with management, fundraising and access to information.

Think tanks drastically reduced their interaction with the state, while managing to reinforce themselves with experts, coming from public offices. Interaction within the community thus intensified within the framework of the Belarusian Association of Research Centers. The Bank of Ideas was launched,3 and the plans for a training program for research centers were presented under the BELARUS BEEHIVE project.4

Since think tanks were going through a rough patch, and organizational costs increased, think tanks’ output considerably declined against 2020.

Research by leading centers

BEROC Center published more than 30 research papers and macroeconomic reviews in the field of fintech, green and circular economy, business environment, and women’s inputs in business, which were slightly fewer than in 2020. Research was conducted on the transformation of nation’s values and a general concept of future reforms in Belarus. The Covidonomics Belarus website that focused on impacts of the pandemic on development was no longer updated.

BEROC switched to online educational activities, which includes the KEF-2021 School of Economics, the XI Student School, regular open lectures and seminars, and the first course of the Economic Journalism Laboratory.

The Research Center of the Institute for Privatization and Management (IPM) has not updated its website and Telegram channel since July 2021. Before that, five policy briefs and discussions materials on climate risks, economic expectations and the private sector were posted together with IPM Index business sentiments monitoring. The Kastryčnicki Economic Forum (KEF) did not take place in 2020 and 2021. The KEF website published the book “The State for the People. Why Values and Public Opinion Matter for Social Policy and How to Bring It Closer to Ideal.”5 It contained materials about the influence of expectations on the economy, and infographics about what the Belarusian economy should be like.

CASE Belarus published four studies on Belarus – EU trade in services, the state and financial sectors of Belarus and impacts of the pandemic on the national economy, posted a series of interviews with experienced foreign reformers and offered webinars on Belarus – Russia economic ties.

Belarus Security Blog published reports on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, the Eurasian Security Digest, national and economic security monitoring findings, comments and analysis. The Varta radio program stopped broadcasts.

The expert initiative Minsk Dialogue held a virtual roundtable session titled “30 Years after the USSR: Balkanization of Eastern Europe?”, published reports and reviews, and posted three issues of the Minsk Barometer (a review of Belarus’ main foreign policy trends and security).

Nashe Mneniye (“Our Opinion”) expert community published 20 to 25 analytical papers on various topics per month until July 2021, when the site editor Valeria Kostyugova was jailed. The number of posts reduced after that. The Belarusian Yearbook (Russian and English versions) summed up the results of 2020. Jointly with the Press Club, Belarus in Focus and Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, Nashe Mneniye organized online sessions of the Expert Analytical Club, which were then posted both as videos and text summaries. Among other things, the participants discussed the state of the expert community under repression (July 2021).

The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) published the second issue of the National Identity Index, studies on value transformations and pandemic impacts, analytical reviews and commentaries. The website previously launched by BISS for coronavirus pandemic insight and analysis stopped functioning. Currently, materials on this topic are posted on the main website of the organization.

The Center for European Transformation started The Fourth Republic, an analytical project aimed at “finding grounds and possible options for the transition of the Republic of Belarus from an authoritarian to a democratic state.” Experts contributed texts and videos about possible future arrangements in different areas of life in Belarus and ways to reform them. The Center continued monitoring of communication in Belarusian Telegram chat rooms, and published the e-book “Answering for Myself. Notes by a Tart Tempered Philosopher” by Vladimir Matskevich based on his Facebook posts of 2019, and posted analytical comments on current events.

The BIPART Research Center conducted research on the state of civil society in the political crisis, civil society organizations and think tanks, and produced infographics, analysis, and commentary for the Kosht Urada project. Educational activities were conducted online as part of the SYMPA School.

The Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies mainly published analytical reviews and comments. There were no more significant materials on the Center’s website in 2021.

The Political Sphere institute for political studies posted analytics and commentary, and made a video blog. It organized the IX International Congress of Researchers in Belarus,6 which took place October 1–3 in Kaunas, and numbered around 150 in-person and 200 online participants.

The EAST Center released a series of studies on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccination (including a study of authoritarian post-Soviet countries’ responses) and a study on countering misinformation in Central and Eastern Europe.

iSANS expert network issued a report on the use of weapons by Belarusian security forces to disperse peaceful protest actions, published quarterly monitoring of narratives of Belarusian state TV channels, materials on militarization of Belarus, the migration crisis, integration with Russia, and Belarusian propaganda personas.

The Strategy Research Center, which lost its founder Leonid Zaiko (died in 2020) and official registration, apparently ceased to exist as an organization. The Mises Center also did not post any new research on its website, but Jaroslav Romanchuk continued providing analysis and comments as an independent expert.

The Bologna Committee only published current news on education, and did not issue any monitoring or research materials.

The New Ideas Center employed new researchers–Gennady Korshunov, former director of the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, and Pavel Matsukevich, former diplomat and chargé d’affaires ad interim of Belarus in Switzerland (2016–2020). As a result, the Center enhanced the quality of its sociological and international research. It also started What Belarusians Think Telegram channel with analysis of public opinion. The Center published the Rating of Belarusian Cities 2021, studies, podcasts, articles and analysis, held online events (such as the Re-Shape conference and the Young Reformer School), workshops and expert discussions.

The Regional Expert Club (recently launched in Mogilev) mainly posted materials from the local media, as well as the results of several local opinion polls on the role of activism and volunteerism, the potential of self-organization, and urban problems in Mogilev and the Mogilev Region.

Independent sociologists continued working mainly online. Regular online surveys of the urban population from Chatham House Belarus7 present the dynamics of changes in public opinion. Various sociological measurements made by some other foreign institutions are not available in the public domain. People’s Poll and Honest People conducted political surveys that were not claiming to be representative samplings.

State researchers continued publishing very few findings. The rampant political crisis and repression distanced state and independent researchers from each other even more. The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research stood out to a certain extent. It maintains the strong presence in the state-controlled mass media, but no studies have ever been published on its website, except for materials in the Opinion section.

Influence on policy making and relations with stakeholders


Open cooperation has shrunk to next to zero. There was some interaction in the form of information transfers through indirect channels (international organizations, mass media, social media, etc.). Several officials and representatives of the academic community continue to cooperate with Belarusian research centers, and contribute papers under pseudonyms.

Civil society organizations

In 2021, civil society was under even more pressure than in 2020, being busy with mere survival. Coupled with problems faced by the attacked civil society segments, organizations’ research is not much in demand on the part of civil society.


Media outlets were also subject to massive repression. Many of them were pushed out of the country, and their websites were blocked in Belarus. Those, who continued working, cooperate with research centers. The media ask for comments and analysis, and research centers provide their products to them. The collaboration between independent think tanks and state media has been curtailed. State analysts only make comments in the state media.

Political parties and movements

Think tanks usually seek to retain independence at the institutional level, and do not engage in cooperation or consultation with any political entities. Research findings and individual projects of interest to political actors (e.g. the Bank of Ideas) are presented to the entire democratic community. Individual analysts and experts do selectively consult political forces, though.


The unpredictable and adverse environment should be perceived by think tanks as a “new normal,” a narrow space, in which they need to show some flexibility. They will try to do what they are supposed to and what they know how to do, i.e. provide analysis and research, education, outreach, and monitoring. However, it is hard to predict to what extent the environment in Belarus and in the entire region would facilitate or hamper these activities.