Semi-annual BISS-Trends (June-December 2015) issue

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This new issue of BISS-Trends is a semiannual monitoring review of the primary trends in the development of the Belarusian state and society in the second half of 2015.

This review focuses on the main trends in the following areas:  political democratization/political liberalization;        economic liberalization; good governance and rule of law; geopolitical orientation; and  cultural policy.

The political liberalization dimension was marked by progress in the second half of 2015. Although the presidential election was held without a slightest deviation from the scenario originally concocted by the authorities and was accompanied by numerous failures to comply with the applicable regulations, the authorities managed to bring down the overall, already quite low, level of repression, and changed to milder restrictive practices. An important development recorded during the period under review was the release of all of the political prisoners. When it comes to political democratization, no significant changes were reported.

The economic liberalization segment was characterized by a deterioration of the main macroeconomic indicators, as well as the accumulation and aggravation of previous challenges. Structural reforms were postponed again, and the authorities confined themselves to making negligible positive changes, mostly to comply with foreign lenders’ requirements.

In the sector that we refer to as good governance and rule of law significant progress was registered, driven by the need to improve the effectiveness of state administration ahead of the presidential election amid the less favorable international situation. During the six months under analysis, a series of important documents were approved concerning the country’s business environment and investment procedures.

In the second half of the year, Belarus’s geopolitical orientation was marked by the continued trend towards further normalization of Belarus’s relationship with the West and persisting contradictions in its relations with Russia. Belarus met halfway with some of the western countries: it released all of the political prisoners and chose not to increase the level of repression in the course of the presidential campaign. As a result, the European Union and the United States suspended sanctions against Belarus. The relationship with Russia was complicated by the issue of the establishment of a Russian air base in Belarus, as well as protracted negotiations over a new loan to Belarus.

In cultural policy, the problems in the implementation of so-called “soft Belarusianization” were especially apparent. The lack of the uniform state cultural policy brought about an interesting phenomenon — a conflict between senior state officials regarding “soft Belarusianization.” The period under analysis was also characterized by the controversial policy on permits and bans in the cultural field.