Of all contestants, Belarusian authorities chose British agency INSTID headed by Natasha Grand and Alexander Grand — former Natallia Lieshchanka and Aliaksandr Fiadulin.
It seems, the choice of the authorities is not a random one.
This July, Minsk City Executive Committee announced a competition on the development of city brand. Out of dozens of contestants, INSTID was chosen. The agency is to develop Minsk’s brand and style. The overall budget of the project is Br300mln ($35,000). The winning INSTID was said to have developed the brand for London.
After the announcement, some reported that the Grands are actually Belarusians, and furthermore the advocates of Belarusian opposition.
As a proof, an incoming letter said Natasha Grand, the head of INSTID’s research department, previously was Natasha Lieshchanka, a student of Belarus State University and author of several social and political articles.
The letter also informed that one of the INSTID experts mentioned on their website is Viktar Marcinovich, a well-known Belarusian independent journalist.
Some days later another letter criticized INSTID and not-yet-developed brand of Minsk.
The criticism could simply be a reaction by branding agencies who did not manage to be picked. However, the case still was worth investigation.
Belarusian news agency BelTA informed that INSTID had developed brand for London. However, INSTID website says nothing of the kind. It contains even no gallery of works by INSTID. The only useful information one may find is the list of agency’s 14 clients: Belarus’ Foreign Ministry,Belarus’ Embassy to the UK, 6 clients from Russia and two from America. The vacancies for project manager, mediamanager and sponsor communicator are also there.
In an interview with Euroradio Natasha Grand confessed that INSTID has no concrete suggestions on the image of Minsk.
She mentioned the initial step would be a research to shape out the image.
“Our work is warmly welcomed in Minsk. People — especially creative persons and students — are eager to help. Businesses are also interested,” Natasha Grand said in an interview with Belaruspartizan.org.
“Authorities cooperate with us. The project receives vast media coverage. The research is held according to the schedule. The Minsk residents willingly share their ideas, mull over the issues,” she added.
However, independent experts are surprised at the choice of the contractor.
Thus, head of Belarusian PR and marketing firm “Agency for Business Contacts” Valiancina Lopana is truly embarrassed by the fact the brand for Minsk is going to be developed by a British company.
“After such a competition all Belarus’ branding agencies must disperse themselves: it is such a shame.
“I have no idea what criteria were applied while choosing a contractor, but their [INSTID] offer is simple corruption. They should only set objectives: develop this, create that — and dozens of Belarusian designers will come up with ready-made concept. Please, less conference — more action.”
“There are many specialists in Belarus who may create a quality product,” Ms. Lopan notes.
As it was found out, Natasha Grant is also a press reviewer for BBC World TV Channel. She appears on World Business Report and comments on the events in the Commonwealth of independent states.
Natasha is also a graduate of London Economic School and a PhD in sociology.
She specializes in political ideologies, nationalism and nation building.
Natasha is also an expert in political and entrepreneurial risks in Russia and the CIS and the author of two articles on post-Soviet development of Belarus, which criticise the regime of Lukashenka.
Still, INSTID can hardly be called a supporter of opposition.
INSTID (aka Institute of State Ideologies) became known in 2009–2010, when Belarus annulled its contract with Lord Timothy Bell: official Minsk was dissatisfied with the results of improving the image of Lukashenka in the EU countries by Bell Pottinger Group. Plenty pretended for the new vacancy. INSTID with its different concept was among them, too. However, the contract was not concluded then.
INSTID’s reaction on the EU sanctions inflicted after the presidential elections and police brutality against opposition is also revealing. Natasha Grant writes in her blog that sanctions were an ineffective step. She also advises Belarusian authorities not to satisfy the EU demands (release the political prisoners and hold reelections). She considers this “unnatural” as “there is a risk to lose face simply and publicly conforming someone else’s will.” Natasha Grant says it is better to “enhance cooperation with Europe in spheres not affected by sanctions. Where the policy stalls, economy and culture must work.”
When asked what caused such a drastic change in political views, Natasha Grand commented: “I’ve been studying Belarusian national identity and ideologies for 12 years. I have defended my thesis on this topic, I am the author of several scientific articles. I am sure the cooperation with outer world is useful and necessary for Belarus, and such cooperation should be promoted.
“I advocate this stance everywhere and address anyone: from opposition to common people. I talk to anyone who may affect the situation, not taking anyone’s side. I act logically and clearly express my stance. What the branding project is concerned, it is neither for official government nor against it. It is for Minsk.”
Such a position of INSTID administration makes the choice of Belarusian authorities clearly obvious.