U.S. Assistance to Belarus
U.S. Government Assistance FY 97 Annual Report
Political and Economic Overview
In FY 1997 Belarus moved closer towards establishing a dictatorship and a Soviet-style command economy. In November 1996, President Lukashenko engineered a constitutional referendum which effectively eliminated checks on the executive branch and was therefore deemed illegal by the then-Constitutional Court and considered to be illegitimate by the United States and other members of the international community. Based on the results of the severely flawed referendum, Lukashenko abolished the legitimate parliament and introduced a new legislature that is beholden to the president. A new constitution (which gives the president the power to appoint and dismiss all judges) and a June 1997 presidential decree governing the legal profession effectively eliminated any pretense of an independent judiciary in Belarus. The government's human rights record once again worsened significantly, particularly with regard to respect for freedoms of speech and assembly. Meanwhile, the executive branch continued to block market-based economic reforms and instead introduced greater administrative controls.
Overview of U.S. Government Assistance
In FY 1997, the U.S. Government provided approximately $19.5 million in assistance to Belarus, including $10.5 million in privately donated, U.S. Government-transported humanitarian commodities. Following the November 1996 referendum, the U.S. Government introduced a policy of "selective engagement" toward Belarus, a key tenet of which is that no new U.S. Government assistance will be directed to the Government of Belarus and, whenever possible, assistance will be channeled through non-governmental organizations, particularly those elements of Belarusian society that, despite the current regime, are trying to introduce democratic and free-market principles. Although still modest, U.S. Government assistance to Belarus increased slightly in FY 1997, with the aim of building respect for the rule of law and democracy, strengthening NGOs and independent media, and encouraging small-scale privatization—the one area in which the Government of Belarus has demonstrated some progress toward market reform. In FY 1997, as a result of the Belarusian Government's poor human-rights record, Belarus was decertified under the Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) or "Nunn-Lugar" Program, resulting in the suspension of $40 million in planned assistance.
Through Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs , the U.S. Government helped eliminate and dismantle Belarusian weapons of mass destruction, and provided emergency response equipment and training, and export control assistance. Among FY 1997 highlights of the CTR program in Belarus were the completion and transfer to the Ministry of Defense of a housing project for former military officers under a defense conversion project in Grodno, and the transfer of soil remediation equipment to Belarus for the environmental restoration of former military bases. Belarus's export control program also benefited from U.S. Government assistance, receiving updated computer technology to enhance the country's capability to monitor and prevent the transport of nuclear materials beyond its borders. However, in February 1997, the President of the United States decertified Belarus due to its poor human-rights record, resulting in a suspension of $40 million in unobligated funds for CTR assistance to Belarus. Although projects with funds already obligated were permitted to continue for the remainder of the fiscal year, some of those also encountered difficulties. The most serious obstacles to implementing CTR programs were imposed by the Belarusian Government. As in FY 1996, the Government of Belarus continued to deny U.S. contractors access to installations so that they could provide agreed-upon assistance for the elimination of SS-25 fixed structure foundations. The Belarusian Government also stopped funding an environmental restoration project in Postavy, as a result of which soil remediation equipment given to the Belarusian Government under the CTR Program has stood idle since July 1997.
Economic Development Programs
Since mid-1993, USAID has been funding the International Finance Corporation's (IFC) small-scale privatization program in Belarus. In FY 1997, IFC provided a full range of consulting, technical and legal services to 16 cities in Belarus and began negotiations to begin work in several other cities. As of December 1, 1997, IFC-assisted auctions had resulted in the transfer of 550 small businesses (restaurants, shops, laundries, etc.) to private hands. Of the 461 businesses, eight were sold to foreigners and 33 to workers' collectives. The auctions generated over $12.1 million in revenue, and created thousands of private-sector jobs. The newly privatized businesses proved to be successful, thus encouraging competitive practices on the part of neighboring state-owned businesses. To assist in the sale of built-in premises of small businesses, IFC has been involved in the design and implementation of a regulatory framework to create privately owned and managed condominiums in municipal buildings. As a result, eight cities in Belarus adopted condominium regulations.
Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (VOCA), a USAID grantee, brought 14 U.S. private farmers to Belarus in FY 1997 to work with their Belarusian counterparts on a volunteer basis. As a result, Belarus-based NGOs increased their networks of potential U.S. partners, the newsletter Farming in Belarus was created, a new farmer training project was developed, and the volunteers' recommendations will be included in a national land reform concept. Agricultural Cooperative Development International (ACDI)/VOCA placed a permanent U.S. country representative in Belarus in early 1998.
U.S. Department of the Treasury: The Treasury Department's resident government debt advisor in Belarus was withdrawn in November 1996, after one year of activity, due to the U.S. Government-wide reduction in assistance to the Government of Belarus. Despite the general retreat from economic reform by the Belarusian Government, the Belarusian National Bank nearly achieved its 1996 issuance target of $300 million.
In FY 1997, our embassy's "Democracy Fund" Small Grants Program , which is administered by USIA, became a critical element of the overall U.S. Government strategy to help develop a civil society based on the rule of law in Belarus. The role of the Democracy Fund took on added importance in the wake of the suspension of the Soros Foundation's grant-making activities in Belarus due to interference by the Belarusian Government. In FY 1997, our embassy's Democracy Fund awarded 13 grants to support independent media, democratically oriented youth and women's groups, and human rights NGOs. For example, a Democracy Fund grant was awarded to the Belarusian NGO ``Legislative Initiative" for a project to analyze the culture of law in Belarus, with the goal of increasing the awareness of and participation in the legal sphere. One of the NGO's larger projects was to draft documentation of the laws implemented by direct presidential order that were deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. The NGO also did considerable work in legislation on independent media.
American Bar Association – Central and East European Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI): In FY 1997, the USAID-funded ABA/CEELI Rule of Law Program organized a series of conferences and workshops on criminal jury trials, human rights, commercial arbitration, border issues and other topics. In late November 1996, ABA/CEELI sponsored a three-day conference on the theory and practice of criminal jury trials, which was very well received by the Belarusian legal community. As follow up to this successful program, ABA/CEELI initiated Project 2000, which will provide training to the Belarusian legal community on the U.S. and Russian jury trial systems and in advocacy and other skills to prepare the Belarusian legal community for the introduction of a jury trial system in Belarus by the year 2000. ABA/CEELI also helped reform-minded Belarusian lawyers, led by former Constitutional Court Justice Aleksandr Vashkevich, establish the Center for Constitutionalism and Comparative Legal Studies in Belarus. ABA/CEELI provided funding for the center's first year of operations. ABA/CEELI continued to support the nascent Belarusian Law Students' Association and its branches at law schools in the regional centers. ABA/CEELI also sponsored the extended visit of an American law professor as part of its project to introduce clinical legal education at the European Humanities University in Minsk and at Belarus State University.
IREX ProMedia Program: USAID provided support for the development of independent media in Belarus through the ProMedia Program implemented by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). IREX officially began operating in Belarus in summer 1997, providing professional journalistic and management assistance to local and national media throughout the country. The program's primary goal is to increase independent media's ability to inform the citizens of Belarus so that they may more fully participate in economic and political decision-making. ProMedia sent 12 editors from independent local Belarusian newspapers (all based outside of the capital) to counterpart newspapers in Poland for one-week internships, followed by a three-day seminar that covered critical areas of newspaper operations. Five Belarusian journalists from local independent television stations attended an international broadcasting conference and a week-long training program in Slovakia. In October, ProMedia brought three U.S. newspaper executives to Belarus for a two-week management training and consulting project. ProMedia has also sent leaders of the Belarusian Journalists' Association to Croatia to observe their counterparts' operations. In addition, IREX helped disseminate information about media law issues to journalists and lawyers and sponsored an U.S. lawyer who provided training to Belarusian media lawyers. ProMedia also ran regular courses in computer and Internet skills for Belarusian journalists and conducted two courses in the fundamentals of journalism for working and prospective reporters.
As part of its effort to help develop an open, civil society in Belarus, USAID also began funding the Counterpart Alliance for Partnership (CAP) NGO Development Program. Locally hired CAP trainers conducted seminars for 45 Belarusian NGOs in issues such as project development, social marketing, working with mass media, community development, and team building. CAP also provided seed grants to a variety of NGOs engaged in providing social services, developing public policy, and promoting legislative reform.
Training and Exchange Programs
In FY 1997, USIA-sponsored exchange programs were also a key component in the U.S. Government's strategy to assist those Belarusians who are working to introduce democratic and economic reforms. In FY 1997, USIA began identifying small-business entrepreneurs and NGO leaders from five Belarusian cities to participate in its Community Connections Program, which will send these individuals to the United States to meet their American counterparts and to help build a network of reform-minded Belarusian leaders. USIA also sent six Belarusian women to the United States for three weeks to meet with their counterparts in areas such as trade unions, media and law. USIA funded the participation of Belarusians in seminars in Warsaw on teacher education and in Salzburg on U.S. law and legal institutions. In addition, USIA brought Belarusian high school students and teachers to the United States for yearlong exchanges, as well as undergraduate and graduate students on fellowships. USIA also sent two American experts to Belarus to lead seminars on human rights and the U.S. electoral system.
The Eurasia Foundation
In FY 1997 the Eurasia Foundation used U.S. Government funding to award 34 grants totaling $573,101 in areas such as NGO development, independent media, rule of law, business development, business education and management training, economic education and research, and electronic communications. The Foundation's grants focused first and foremost on supporting grassroots initiatives in NGO development (11 grants), independent media (5 grants) and rule of law (4 grants), since these activities are considered to contribute most to the development of a civil society in Belarus. For example, Eurasia provided a grant to the Foundation for the Support of Independent Press with the aim of establishing an alternative distribution system for independent print media in the regions of Belarus, which currently rely on the state distribution network. Eurasia also provided four grants under the Belarusian-Ukrainian Cooperation and Exchange Program, which aims at promoting and strengthening relationships between Belarusian and Ukrainian individuals and organizations that are working for democratic and economic reforms in their respective countries. Also in FY 1997, the Eurasia Foundation's office in Washington, D.C. awarded four grants totaling $366,645 to U.S. organizations carrying out projects with Belarusian partners.
In FY 1997, USAID continued to fund the American International Health Alliance (AIHA) Hospital Partnership Program. Under this program, the Magee Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh continued to cooperate with four Minsk-based medical institutions to improve the quality of health care in Belarus. Among the highlights of AIHA's program in FY 1997 was the development of a women's wellness clinic at Minsk Maternity Hospital Number 2, one of Magee's partners. The clinic will provide prenatal care and infant care classes, as well as family planning services and routine women's health care. Though the clinic is not expected to open until FY 1998, construction work was completed in FY 1997 with the help of the Belarusian Ministry of Health. The partnership also set up two computer labs at the Minsk Medical Institute and the Radiation Medicine and Endocrinology Institute, providing Internet connectivity to these institutions. Minsk Medical Institute administrators also began working with their Pittsburgh colleagues to redesign the school's curriculum and teaching methodologies. The fourth Belarusian partner, Children's Hospital No.4, launched a program to upgrade the skills of nursing staff and increase their role in patient care.
Social Sector and Humanitarian Assistance Programs
In FY 1997, the U.S. Government delivered over $10 million in humanitarian assistance to Belarus, most of which was donated by U.S. citizens and private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and directed to victims of the Chornobyl accident. USAID continued to fund the Counterpart Humanitarian Assistance Program (CHAP), which locates excess Defense Department property at U.S. military bases which are closing down and delivers it to hospitals, orphanages and social service-oriented NGOs. In addition, the Office of the Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to the NIS continued to fund the delivery of privately donated humanitarian assistance to Belarus.