Sida's work in Belarus
Belarus faces significant challenges in terms of democracy and human rights. Sida's reform cooperation with Belarus aims to strengthen respect for democracy and human rights, as well as to support a sustainable development and the EU-Belarusian rapprochement.
Progress has been made
A vibrant civil society
After the presidential election in August 2020, Belarusian civil society has proved strong in organizing itself to systems change. New groups have participated in various forms of civil society involvement.
Poverty has declined since the turn of the millennium. In 2000, 42 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line – in 2019, it had dropped to 5 percent.¹
Belarus is “not free”
Democratic and human rights are severely limited in Belarus. The country is rated as a not free, authoritarian state where political elections are openly manipulated and civil rights are severely limited, by Freedom House – an organisation that maps the respect for human rights and civil liberties in the world.²
Risky political engagement
Citizens’ possibility to influence politics is virtually non-existent. Anyone who engages in political parties, movements or issues runs great risks on a personal level.
Independent media under heavy pressure
The regime completely controls the state-owned media. There are a number of active independent media houses where journalists are regularly subjected to threats, harassment, confiscation of equipment and criminal sanctions for their work.
Development cooperation in Belarus
Aleksandr Lukasjenko and his government has been leading Belarus since 1994 using authoritarian methods. An opposition is present both in Belarus and in exile, but it is working under great pressure. All presidential elections that have been held since 1994 have been criticized by observers for having democratic flaws.
Belarus also has several environmental and climate challenges, including polluted waterways and emissions. Commitment to environmental issues is growing and there is an increasingly strong environmental movement that is active in the country.
Human rights, democracy and rule of law
There are extensive violations of human rights in Belarus. Limitations are vast regarding freedom of association, freedom of expression, rule of law, union rights, the human rights of women and LGBTIQ persons and flaws in the election legislation. The Belarusian independent media operates under hard conditions and often practice self-censorship. Belarus is also the only country in Europe that still practices death penalty.
Supports university in exile
Access to independent higher education is limited in Belarus. Together with Lithuania and the European Union, Sida supports European Humanities University (EHU). EHU is a Belarusian university operating in exile from Vilnius, Lithuania since 2004. EHU is an important contribution to a pluralistic civil society in Belarus, as evidenced by the fact that a large proportion of students return to Belarus after completing their studies, many of whom are found in civil society and local business.
Support to civil society under pressure
The civil society operates under pressure and it is hard for organisations to acquire the registration necessary to work. While authorities exercise repression against actors in civil society, civil society is strong and relatively united in its pursuit of democratic society change. Forum Civ mediates support from Sida to organisations and initiatives in Belarus, aiming to increase the civil society’s impact in issues such as gender equality, human rights and environment. The support contributes to creating new networks and rooms online for LGBTQI people, fighting hate crimes and creating better conditions for people with disabilities in Belarus.
Counteracting destructive masculinity norms
Sida promotes dialogue between civil society and the state regarding gender equality – with the aim of giving more political priority to the issue. As an example, our partners work against gender-based violence through support to victims. Other partners, such as MÄN and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) work to counteract destructive masculinity norms and stereotypical attitudes
Integration with EU and economic development
Belarus has a long way to go regarding integration with the European Union. Much work remains to be done to live up to the EU’s expectations of respect for democracy and human rights.
The official unemployment rate in Belarus is very low. However, a big part of the population is underemployed and many people who do not have jobs are not registered as unemployed. The Belarusian economy has been in recession for the last few years and looks set to continue to develop negatively.
Research in green economy
Sida contributes to modern research in green economy, on how challenges within environment and climate can transform into financial possibilities. This is done through Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC).
Environment and climate
While Belarus has relatively good environmental legislation and well-functioning management of natural resources, many challenges remain. Among them are the use of non-sustainable energy and neglected investments in environmental infrastructure. Pollution from industries, agriculture and the large-scale meat industry is particularly problematic.
Improving sewage managment
Sida is one of the most significant donors regarding local environmental infrastructure in Belarus. For example, Sida contributes to improve 13 sewage treatment plants in the country. This will result in less effluent reaching the Baltic sea, in which many of the Belarusian rivers empty.
Strengthening the environment movement
There are a large number of active environmental organizations in Belarus, to which Sida is one of few financiers. The work of the organizations aims to have an infleunce on decisions that risk having negative environmental and climate impact. Sida’s support for civil society’s environmental commitment is channeled through Forum Civ, and Sida also supports Coalition Clean Baltic, a network of environmental organizations around the Baltic Sea. The support to CCB aims to increase awareness of good water quality, to strengthen the capacity of environmental organizations in the country and to contribute to an active public participation in the development of environmental legislation.
Collaboration for a clean Baltic sea
Sida is one of few financiers to Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), a network of environmental organisations from the countries bordering the Baltic sea. The aim of these organisations is to influence political decisions that might have a negative environmental impact. The support is channeled through Forum Civ. Sida also supports CCB to increase the consciousness about quality of water, strengthen the capacity of environmental organisations and contribute to public participation in the development of legislation within environment and climate.
Updated: 25 May 2021