Pro-Government NGOs: Everyone chooses his own service…

1

Dzmitry Brukhavetski

Summary

During the whole of 2012 the pro-government NGOs (the Federation of Trade unions of Belarus (FTUB), the Republican Public Association Belaya Rus and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM)) had to define their tasks under the crisis of the Belarusian model of development and new model formation which is close to state-oligarchic capitalism. The less successful NGO in this process was the FTUB which began to lose its traditional functions of control over employees’ sentiments. It may be suggested that the growth of crisis features in the FTUB’s activities may lead to its reforming by the Belarusian authorities.

The Republican public association (RPA) Belaya Rus preserved its position as the pro-presidential elite club and has very good perspectives to strengthening them during the decline of the socially oriented policy. However, this does not imply the transformation into a full-fledged political party. It was the BRSM which reacted most adequately on the new conditions and attempted to adapt the youth policy to the new requirements of the country’s authorities.

Trends:
The FTUB: No! Pagliacci non siamo! 2 We are the trade unions!

The year 2012 is a period of further marginalization of the official trade unions. Whereas during relative social and economic stability the FTUB was enjoying the image of an organization which plays a certain role in improvement of employees’ life, in the year 2011 the Federation demonstrated its extremely low share in the process of solving the people’s social and economic problems. In theory the “rehabilitating” post-crisis year 2012 gave the FTUB a chance to raise its authority among people. However, the president needed also this chance and he claimed all merits connected with the positive changes in the social and economic spheres. The responsibility for the negative trends was held by the government, “the fifth column”, the West etc. The FTUB did get its place in such a scheme.

The growth of the direct administrative pressure in the previous year also contributed to the low authority and importance of the FTUB. As a result the FTUB began to lose gradually even its traditional functions within the Belarusian model. The major functions are to control employees’ sentiments and to suppress any possible protest preventing its transformation into a political one.

The Federation’s inefficiency in implementing this task in 2012 was especially distinctly demonstrated by the protest growth at different enterprises: JSC Grodno Azot; JSC Grodnozhilstroy; JSC Spetszhelezobeton in Mikasevicy; Elektroseti in Orsa; Borisov Plant of Automotive and Tractor Electrical Equipment; Baranavicy road-building organization DEU-3; Trucks base in Hancavicy; JSC Holding company Pinskdrev; Bobruisk Plant of Tractor Parts and Units; Promzhilstroy in Mahiliou; JSC Polotsk-Steklovolokno; JSC Lidselmash; Polotsk Winery; the 2nd city hospital in Minsk; JSC Glassworks Neman; Brestoblavtotrans. One should agree with numerous experts that these protests had primarily a social and economic but not a political character and to prevent such protests is the FTUB’s main task. The official trade unions’ inefficiency in implementation resulted even in public criticism by certain representatives of the authorities. For example, on May 10 the head of the General Directorate of Ideology of the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee Ruslan Trukhan said that the FTUB had to resist the attempts of “destructive influence” on people especially if it is conducted by independent trade unions.

The authorities also failed to suppress the protest sentiments at the enterprise Granit in Mikasevicy where in 2011 more than 600 employees left the official trade union. In spite of the severe administrative pressure and significant salaries growth (in some cases the salaries were raised to 14–15 million BYR), about 300 employees are still refusing to rejoin the official trade union. The level of the authorities’ concern is remarkably demonstrated by the fact that on May 3 Mr. Lukashenko charged the FTUB’s head Mr. Leonid Kozik with a task to cope with the situation at Granit. Certainly, Mr. Kozik’s involvement did not lead to any significant results.

The experience of Granit contributed to the development of a new method of employees’ struggle for their rights: threatening to leave an official trade union and join an independent one. This resulted in the further decline of the authority not only of the FTUB but of trade unions per se. According to sociological research conducted by JSC Zerkalo-info (May 2012), only 43% of employees are members of the FTUB and more than 50% have not jointed any trade union. Among trade unions’ members only 41% are satisfied with their activities while 40% are not satisfied and 19% were undecided. 3

There are certain problems in discipline in the FTUB itself. For example, on January 10 the presidium of the committee of the Belarusian chemistry industry trade union (a member of the FTUB) at JSC Belaruskali did not validate the FTUB’s decision to dismiss the head of the Minsk region council of the Belarusian chemistry industry trade union Kuzma Koshevski.

While the FTUB’s influence inside the country comes down, the Federation tries to find new forms of its activities primarily in order to justify its importance for the authorities. As in 2011, sometimes these forms take ridiculous character (for example, in 2011 Mr. Kozik proposed to make Mr. Lukashenko a candidate for the Nobel Prize in economy). April-May of 2012 are remembered for the claim by an employee at the JSC Mozyr Oil Refinery Marina Tsybliyenko against opposition activist Viktar Ivashkevich to compensate non-pecuniary damage related to Mr. Ivashkevich’s calls to introduce sanctions against Belarus. Certainly, this claim was sanctioned by the Administration of the President which, however, understands clearly the real possibilities of Mr. Ivashkevich to lobby anything at the EU agencies. Officially this claim was organized by the FTUB.

The issue of the EU’s sanctions against Belarus dominated in the FTUB’s activities in the first half of 2012. However, in the policy of the Belarusian authorities the FTUB occupies a relatively narrow niche: propaganda in keeping with the spirit of the 1930–1950s 4 and energetic international activities, primarily via left-wing trade unions. In spite of the fact that the FTUB did not succeed greatly in its international activities Mr. Kozik declared that the issues of separate countries including Belarus had not been discussed at the 101st Session of the International Labor Conference in Geneva thanks to “his personal efforts.” Nevertheless, during the whole of 2012 the FTUB’s relationship with the International Labor Organization was worsening and the Federation’s international influence was decreasing (in many aspects due to the notorious “feudal” Decree No.9).

It is necessary to mention one more important reason of the decline of FTUB’s influence inside the country – decreasing the number of employees in Belarus. For example, even according to official data on January 1, 2013 there were 4,571,100 employees in Belarus and 4,892,200 of unemployable people. Considering the size of unregistered labor migration from Belarus of 1 million people and the sociological data mentioned above it is possible to describe the prospects of the official trade unions as very vague.

Actually, during the whole of 2012 the FTUB was losing its economic (salaries growth), social (employees’ protection) repressive (the possibility to fire disloyal employees) and propagandist (the decreasing influence of the official trade unions) strangleholds and was more and more marginalizing in the Belarusian political space.

The Republican public association Belaya Rus: the Belarusian gentlemen club

In 2012 the main substance of Belaya Rus’ activities was continuing discussions on the possibility to transform this NGO into a political party and formation the full value party system in Belarus. It is obvious that this issue can be solved only by president Lukashenko.

During the whole of 2012, A. Lukashenko regularly raised the question on party system development in Belarus. For example, on January 17 in his interview to the Chinese media the head of the state declared his readiness to start the modernization of the country’s political system. However, on May 8 in his annual message to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus the president criticized the electoral system of party lists.

During the parliamentary election campaign the Belarusian leader preferred to concentrate on criticizing the boycott tactics and on providing the succession of the MPs rather than on Belaya Rus’ transformation into a political party. The president raised this question only after the parliamentary elections which were strictly organized on the scenario developed by the Administration of the President. On December 5 the president discussed the issues of party system formation with the first secretary of the Communist party of Belarus, the deputy head of the government of Minsk city Mr. Igor Karpenko. This meeting is very indicative: actually the authorities try to represent the Communist Party as one of the possible (together with Belaya Rus) centers of party system formations i.e. to complicate the process which has even not started.

On October 11 at the final session of the Council of the Republic and the House of the Representatives Mr. Lukashenko declared that there was no need to radically change the electoral system due to the absence of the full value parties. Belaya Rus can become such a party but this process should not be hurried. The Belarusian leader repeated this idea on October 16 in an interview to the Russian media: the party system has to be formed naturally, the parties should not appear due to the government support and that is why the president will not support this process.

On November 24, in the face of apparent restrained international reaction on the results of the Belarusian parliamentary elections, Mr. Lukashenko declared that the party system was definitely unsuitable for Belarus and even the possible political modernization did not imply the formation of full value political parties. These words describe the political situation in the country very accurately. Any political party even if it is the most pro-presidential one, first of all, will be considered by Mr. Lukashenko as a rival. Secondly, the party system will demand a more delicate approach in public administration while during recent years there is an evident process of its simplifying which does not promote party system formation.

Within the framework of the Belarusian political system Belaya Rus has its strictly defined functions: to unite the administration of state enterprises and organizations in a kind of club and to serve as an additional mediator between these organizations and the Administration of the President. Belaya Rus copes with these tasks successfully and that is why there are no preconditions for its reforming. So-called “discussions” about a possibility of political reforms and party system formation in Belarus serve to be additional arguments in the dialogue with the West and are mainly aimed at external consumption.

BRSM: “We are still not a member of the Law enforcement mobile troops (LEMT)? Then the LEMT will come to you!”

The actions by young people in 2011 caused serious anxiety of the Belarusian authorities. In this relation the Belarusian Republican Youth Union is considered by the president and his Administration as one of the most effective tools to influence the sentiments of young people. In spite of certain criticisms against the organization by a number of public figures (overestimated number of participants, formalism in activities, coercive membership etc.), Mr. Lukashenko is inclined to reject the unsatisfactory features in the Union’s activities.

The Belarusian leader demonstrated his special favor to the BRSM’s initiative 100 ideas for Belarus which was even mentioned in the annual message to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. The president gave a task to transform this initiative into a permanent program. On December 10 there was a meeting between Mr. Lukashenko and the BRSM’s first secretary Mr. Ihar Buzouski in which the Belarusian leader once more stated his full support of the organization.

A new feature in the BRSM’s activities is an attempt to engage its members in more active participation in the work of different security forces. The BRSM has so called “Law enforcement mobile troops” whose legitimacy is highly questionable (actually, these troops can be considered as the armed wing of an NGO). However, at the meeting on December 10 Mr. Lukashenko called the BRSM to be a reserve for the country’s security forces. The Union’s cooperation with these forces began to develop especially active after such words of the president.

Partly it is connected with plans to reform the Ministry of internal affairs and aims to reduce its personnel. But what seems to be more important is the authorities’ attempt to strengthen their presence among young people and involve them to direct cooperation. More attention is given to different informal youth organizations which activities are not connected with politics.

Being aware of certain problems of young people, the authorities try to use the BRSM in order to improve their image among this part of the Belarusian people. During the period considered Mr. Lukashenko visited in short intervals three universities in Minsk: the Belarusian State University (the Faculty of the international relations), Belarus State Economic University and the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics where he made a number of statements on the situation in the sphere of education. Some of them were apparently populist ones but others can be considered as a sign of one more large reform of the system of education. The main contest of this reform would be reducing the quality of education and replacement by young people a serious personnel deficit which became a predictable result of natural dying out of soviet specialists and specialists’ drain from the country. Thereupon, it cannot be excluded that the authorities will even introduce certain elements of the alternative (unarmed) service.

Thus, the BRSM is responsible for increasing the loyalty of young people and their managed integration into the political life in Belarus. A member of the LEMT who in the best case graduated after four years of study from a “practice-oriented” university seems to be an ideal representative of those young people who should be trained within the ranks of the BRSM.

Conclusion

Unlike the previous year, the year 2012 witnessed positional differences between the three largest pro-government NGOs. This is connected with the necessity to adapt to changes in the social and economic (possibly, also in the political) model of the country’s development. Belaya Rus adapted to the new trends to the largest extent, the BRSM began to revise its activities while the FTUB coped with this task to the least extent. It can be suggested that it can lead to the reforming of the Federation itself.