Tag Archives: belarus

Six Months of ThinkTankLINKS Fellowship: Final Thoughts

ThinkTankLINKS participants and CIPE Program Officer at a baseball game in DC. Maksim Karliuk is second from right.

ThinkTankLINKS participants and CIPE Program Officer at a baseball game in DC. Maksim Karliuk is second from right.

Maksim Karliuk was a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS  Fellow at the Cato Institute.

The very first CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellowship is now over. I can say that it was definitely a success for me. I have achieved all the goals that I set in the beginning: to learn best practices and know-how in managing a think tank; to improve my skills in analytical research work; and to learn how to disseminate policy proposals efficiently and ensure their implementation.

My host organization was the Cato Institute. The experience there was essential in terms of achieving all my goals, and more beyond that. Constant interactions with the scholars and staff made the experience truly rewarding. What is quite special to Cato is that there are informal discussions that take place all the time and on various topics. I learned a lot from them and even managed to contribute a “European perspective,” as some referred to it.

Some of the most rewarding experiences during my stay were the one-on-one meetings with the representatives of the major think tanks and research institutions in DC. Of course, I had the opportunity to do that at Cato, which included weekly meetings with senior fellow Jagadeesh Gokhale with whom we worked closely on the issues of financial crisis in the U.S. I had a stunning discussion of economics and politics with the senior fellow Andrei Illarionov, former chief economic adviser of Vladimir Putin. In terms of managing think tanks, I had a great opportunity to learn about best practices in managing Cato personally from its Executive Vice President David Boaz.

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Think Tanks in Belarus

maksim-panel

Maksim Karliuk is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS  Fellow serving at the Cato Institute.

The recently published report by the NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, Democracy Think Tanks in Action: Translating Research into Policy in Young and Emerging Democracies, is a great start for assessing the environment for think tanks in a number of relatively new or struggling democracies. The report analyzes think tanks in nine countries (Argentina, Ecuador, Georgia, Ghana, Lebanon, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea and Turkey), and it shows both similarities and differences in the context within which think tanks operate, their aims and objectives, the ways in which they overcome difficulties in their respective countries and best practices. This initiative should be expanded in the future to cover more countries, including Belarus, and should also identify clear indicators to have a comprehensive comparative picture of think tanks in the identified group of countries.

Below I will provide a succinct overview of the think tank scene in Belarus. To start with, the political situation in the country does not favor the work of independent think tanks. They have to operate in the context of restricted political and civil rights, which include limited freedom of speech and association. This leads to practical problems for the very existence of think tanks (in terms of registering the organizations in the country), as well as making it difficult to hold events, and impairs presence in the media. At the same time, the government generally does not trust the opinion of independent institutions, which diminishes the role of think tanks in society. Yet being one the least reformed countries in the post-Soviet space, Belarus vitally needs new ideas and policy proposals to address the various challenges the country faces.

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The EU’s Failure to Bring Change in Belarus

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Maksim Karliuk is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS  Fellow serving at the Cato Institute.

Belarus has in certain respects a special position in Europe. Compared to most of its neighboring countries, Belarus has never committed itself to closer integration with the European Union (EU). The history of the EU-Belarus relations since the dissolution of the USSR has had a number of highs and lows and could be described as the most hectic in the region. Moreover, Belarus has been an eager proponent of closer integration with Russia. Hence, the question arises whether the EU has efficient influence on the domestic situation in Belarus.

One way to look at it is through EU initiatives in the region. The EU has launched a number of them but the two main ones are the 2004 European Neighbourhood Programme (ENP) and the 2008 Eastern Partnership (EaP). Belarus participates in both, however in a somewhat limited capacity, which was intentionally envisaged by the EU.

Within the ENP, the EU has formulated its long-term goal for Belarus to become a “democratic, stable, reliable, and increasingly prosperous partner with which the enlarged EU will share not only common borders, but also a common agenda driven by shared values.” The condition is that only upon implementation of fundamental political and economic reforms will Belarus be able to make full use of the ENP (such as access to more funds and participation in more projects).

Because there were no sustainable signs of progress from Belarus in this respect, when the ENP was reviewed in 2011, the EU imposed stricter conditionality and introduced the “more for more” principle under which the EU will only develop stronger partnerships with neighbor countries that make more progress towards democratic reform. In addition, the ENP now seeks broader support for civil society and an improved financing mechanism. The effective implementation of these new policies is yet to be seen.

Belarus has also been included in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) from the very launch of the initiative. The initiative’s objective is enhancing the EU’s relationships with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus. It also aims to promote democracy and good governance, strengthen energy security, promote sector reform and environment protection, encourage people to people contacts, support economic and social development and offer additional funding for projects to reduce socio-economic imbalances and increase stability.

However, Belarus’ participation has been limited because the level of participation depends on the overall development of EU-Belarus relations. In addition, Belarus is the only EaP country not entitled to conclude an association agreement with the EU due to the lack of previous agreements (not to mention the absence of WTO membership). A sufficient level of progress in democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and in particular, evidence that the electoral legislative framework and practice are in compliance with international standards, and full cooperation with the Council of Europe, OSCE/ODIHR and UN human rights bodies are preconditions for starting negotiations for agreements and for deepening relations with the EU. To date the EU does not consider Belarus to comply with any of these conditions.

Therefore, out of two modes of cooperation within the EaP, the limited characteristic of Belarus’ participation allows it to take advantage of only one of them – the multilateral track – and not the bilateral one. Arguably, the bilateral part of the EaP creates the biggest opportunities for the partners.

There are limitations for the multilateral cooperation part as well. The Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, being a parliamentary forum for the EaP states and the EU, was launched on 3 May 2011 without the participation of the Belarusian side as long as the European Parliament does not consider Belarusian parliament legitimate. This means that the Civil Society Forum, a platform to promote contacts among civil society organizations within EaP and facilitate their dialogue with public authorities, is the only place Belarus has the right to participate in fully. The Belarusian civil society actively takes advantage of it and is considered to be the most prolific participant.

The limited participation of Belarus in the EaP has negative implications for the country including the limited financial support from the EU.  However, Belarus has been generally enthusiastic about the EaP and it took active part in ministerial and sectorial meetings in the multilateral track. This is especially true for platforms on economic integration and convergence with EU policies as well as energy security and further policy dialogue on customs, integrated border management, law enforcement, and cooperation for fighting smuggling and illegal migration issues. Belarusian authorities have picked what they found satisfactory out of the EaP possibilities, leaving the rest aside.

Belarus’ main interest in cooperating with the EU is mostly based on economic and security reasons. It seems that the latter, meaning border control, illegal migration, trafficking and other issues, is the common ground. It is therefore the point where Belarus can assert influence, as this has become one of the reasons why Belarus decided to lower the outbound border control as a response to EU sanctions.

The economic part is of lesser interest to the EU (mainly, except for transit from Russia), while it is vital for Belarus. The authorities perceive Belarus as a transit country, or an “integrating link”.  Therefore, they aim to foster Belarus’ transit potential which motivates the willingness to co-operate. However, the unwillingness to compromise on the main points of the EU demands – democratization and human rights – makes direct convergence in other fields far less probable and makes the Belarusian authorities find economic interest in other places.

Thus, the EU’s conditionality approaches have failed to bring a change and the Belarusian authorities continue to actively and more deeply pursue integration with Russia (now in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union which is planned to be launched in 2015 together with Kazakhstan). The conclusion is that EU’s engagement with Belarus is currently set on unrealistic terms. In our view it should rather be based on more realistic short- and long-term goals, it should move away from the ultimatum strategies and seek solutions which are beneficial for all parties, and establish permanent open dialogue between pragmatic and reform-oriented segments of the authorities and civil society.

CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellowship brings talented young professionals with strong research backgrounds to shadow researchers and experts at leading U.S. think tanks for six months. Maksim Karliuk is part of the inaugural class, serving at the Cato Institute.

The Customs Union through the Eyes of Belarusian SMEs

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Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan formed a Customs Union in 2010 to integrate the three economies more by removing trade barriers across borders. The member states have shared a single economic space since the beginning of 2012.

The Institute of Privatization and Management (IPM) based in Minsk, Belarus surveyed 400 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2012 to understand better how SMEs view the Customs Union. The survey results showed that Belarus’ membership in the Customs Union poses challenges for small and medium-sized enterprises due to the difficulty of competing with Russian and Kazakh SMEs.

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European Issues Discussed in America

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Maksim Karliuk is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS  Fellow serving at the Cato Institute.

Before coming to the U.S. for the Think Tank LINKS Fellowship, I presumed I would only be engaged with U.S.-based affairs (including political, economic, and regulatory issues). This was dictated by my general interest in these issues, but also by my desire to study how things work in practice in the United States so I could bring back practical lessons to my home country.

However, since my Think Tank LINKS fellowship started in January, I have found myself going almost exclusively to conferences, presentations, and panel discussions on European affairs. Many of the events feature prominent European and American speakers. The latest events I attended were with Madeleine Albright at Georgetown University Mortara Center for International Studies, where the former U.S. Secretary of State presented her new book, Prague Winter; the EU crisis discussion featuring former president of the Czech Republic Václav Klaus at the Cato Institute; a talk on the Transition in Central and Eastern Europe at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars; and a presentation of a book on the Economics and Culture of Transition in Central Europe by the former Minister of Finance of Hungary Lajos Bokros. On its way is a talk on Portugal and the Euro Area with Portuguese Minister of State and Finance Vítor Gaspar at the Brookings Institution.

There is always an opportunity to engage in discussions at these events by publicly asking questions, or by having personal conversations with the speakers and many professionals that attend the events. I was happy to personally discuss one of my current research interests regarding the Eurasian economic integration process with Václav Klaus (hopefully) without any politically sensitive constraints. Klaus is generally very critical of integration processes which go beyond establishing free trade. In this respect he is a pronounced critic of the EU. In his view the Eurasian integration, which has seen the creation of the Customs Union and a Common Economic Space between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and heads to create the Eurasian Economic Union, is no different.

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Business Associations Among Most Trusted Groups in Belarus

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Business association representatives from around Belarus receive a certificate of completion following an Organizational Capacity Workshop.

Around the world, independent, voluntary business associations play a central role in defending the rights of businesses, advocating for policy reform that drives entrepreneurship and prosperity, and representing the voice and needs of small and medium-sized businesses. In Belarus, a new report focuses on how well business associations represent the needs of their members and the wider business community. This particular report is especially important because of all civil society organizations in Belarus, business associations have recently risen to the status of the most trusted civil society organizations, after the Church and the independent media.  Independent think tanks tie in third place together with business associations.

The Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), an independent think tank in Belarus, recently published its report entitled “Belarusian Business Associations: Problems and Potential Development” examining how well the Belarusian business associations serve the needs of their constituents. BEROC found that Belarusian entrepreneurs are generally satisfied with the work of business associations in their country. Business associations that were involved in this study ranged from small (35 members) to large (nearly 800 members), covering a representative sample of local business associations.  BEROC’s report illustrates that in many important areas, such as advocacy, assistance with business development, assistance with partnerships and networking, and educational programs, business associations and their members meet each other’s expectations.

BEROC found that the Belarusian business associations have been successful in providing services to their members. They have particularly distinguished themselves through providing a high quality of legislative advocacy to benefit their members as well as the wider business community, according to the report. This is the main reason Belarusian entrepreneurs join associations and an overwhelming 77 percent of them recommend to their friends to join an association too. Legislative advocacy refers to the ability of business associations to defend and promote the interests of their members and the wider small and medium-sized business community through a grassroots process of engaging stakeholders in constructive public-private dialogue with government to improve the laws that govern and protect business.

One of the weaker points, however, is the discrepancy in the important issue of “work with media.” Association members ranked “work with mass media” as the least important service (11th out of 11) required of associations, while associations themselves ranked this higher (8th out of 11). This difference is significant because associations often find it difficult to convey the extensive efforts that go into a successful advocacy campaign. Because work with the media is an essential element of successful advocacy, one conclusion that can be likely drawn from this is that much of the work done in this area by associations is underappreciated by their members. Associations need to raise awareness of the value they bring to their members and the wider entrepreneurship community through their work with the media to educate the press on the importance of entrepreneurship. This is a crucial element of legislative advocacy that drives results.

Elena Suhir is Senior Program Officer for Eastern Europe and Eurasia at CIPE.

What Makes an Entrepreneur Tick in Belarus?

Belarusian entrepreneurs discuss the topic "Are you ready to start a business?" on the talk show "Vybor" (Choice).

Belarusian entrepreneurs discuss the topic “Are you ready to start a business?” on the talk show “Vybor” (Choice). Eighty percent said “no.”

What drives someone to become an entrepreneur?  Are there any specific demographic, financial, personal, or educational characteristics that are common to entrepreneurs?  What makes for a successful entrepreneur, particularly in transitional economic environments?  What are the driving factors behind the perseverance of private entrepreneurship in a business climate that is not well-developed to welcome entrepreneurs?

The Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) surveyed 200 small business owners to identify the key characteristics of entrepreneurs in Belarus.  In a detailed report entitled Portrait of a Belarusian Entrepreneur, BEROC presents its findings, which may be somewhat unexpected to some.

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