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Experts: Belarusians choose activity over ‘sofa’

15.10.2016  |  Society   |  EuroBelarus Information Service,  
Experts: Belarusians choose activity over ‘sofa’

Under the Belarusian conditions of "indifference" charity became a catalyst for activity.

Leanid Kalitsenia, the head of the Center for Social Innovation is convinced that there has been a tendency in public activity change over the past few years. He shared a view that despite the pessimistic assessment of the civil society’s general state, modern scholars must adjust their indicators due to the peculiarities of Belarusian political and social state.

At the recent VI International Congress of Belarusian Studies within the panel "Civil Society" Leanid Kalitsenia presented a special study on changes in public activity. After the presentation he shared some of his thoughts on these changes with the "EuroBelarus” Information Service:

- Nowadays the study of public activity attracts particular attention. After the events of 2014 in Ukraine it turned out public activity can play an important and even crucial role in a historical moment. Maidan happened as a result of an allegedly sudden explosion in public activity. Some people at such moments have a thought that a global "long arm" just provided money to make it all possible. But such a thought can occur only in the minds of those who do not give civil society credit for its activities.

- With that in mind, what should be changed in the approach to public activity assessment?

 I think that firstly, researcher can miss or overlook a lot of things because they are far from the "subject" of the research itself, i.e. public activity. For example, many small but significant events never covered in the media take place in the country, and if researcher conducts their analysis on the basis of the media a lot can go unnoticed. This researcher will see that there were 2 protests in 2015, 2 in 2014 and the same number this year. It will allow the researcher to come to the conclusion that nothing in fact has changed in the social life. Unfortunately, even today many people believe that only arrests and the number of protests are indicators of public activity although it is known that it is far from being true.

- But you state that there has been some progress in public life and, therefore, public activity?

- Yes. Firstly, there has been an outbreak of the crowdfunding phenomenon in the country. Chance International Children's Charity Foundation over several years  has collected 9.8 million dollars on their projects. Crowdfunding platform "Ulej" has raised 150.000 dollars over one year, "Talaka" got a little less - about 100.000 dollars. Some people, of course, say that these numbers are quite small, especially if you are aware that the European donors provide about 40-80 million dollars to Belarus. We cannot help but agree, however several years ago we did not have even that. One should note that the collected money goes on socially significant projects such as helping people with disabilities, translating movies and books into the Belarusian language, creating and translating independent movies, etc. Imagine the prospects opened for Belarus! The Belarusians have about 20 billion dollars on their deposits accounts every year and if we could find a way to attract at least 1% of this amount it would be as much as 200 million dollars per year! The prospects are huge and the processes we fix show that the Belarusians more and more often chose activity over "sofa strategy."

- You just headed the section "Belarusian civil society: 2016 state and near-term prospects" at the recent International Congress of Belarusian Studies. Have the presented reports confirmed your thoughts?

- Generally, it was a special year. The section exists for four years already and every year we see a lot of content-rich reports, although the number of participants somewhat decreases. It happens partially due to the emerging of separate thematic sections, for example over this time "gender" and "death penalty issue" sections have appeared. This year there were a lot of interesting reports in other sections that somehow touched upon the subject of public activity. This includes a report about a most intensive activity within the framework of the "Route" Belarus-Ukraine", as well as reports on inclusion and representation of people with disabilities. The content of these studies shows that the Belarusians gradually become more active in the public sector. It is also worth mentioning that the Congress always discovers new names and makes it possible for new researchers in the field to meet.

- You have noticed some signs of awakening social life, but can we talk about any results of the increased activity as well?

- In recent years, civil society had a number of important achievements. One of them was the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Belarus. This has become a significant step forward for various organizations and platforms concerned with expanding the inclusion and providing assistance to people with disabilities. Under the Belarusian conditions of "indifference" charity became a catalyst for activity. Perhaps this civil society activity is not the main one and it does not affect the decision-making at state level, but it gets some individual features and is an important aspect of the development of society.

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