Global Belarusian Leaders Plan to Unite Successful Emigrants

Global Belarusian Leaders organisation (GBL) came into existence at the end of August in Vilnius, Lithuania. The founders propose an alternative to the conventional Belarusian emigre networks and seek to unite immigrants who will be able to give their country a hand during the period of its political and economic transformation.

The organisation is going to recruit new members among young and perspective Belarusian professionals all over the world. Several young Belarusians living abroad are the founders of the organisation. Emigrating in the 2000s, and not being able to fulfil their potential in Belarus, they intend to influence the country of their origin by creating a network of professionals with Belarusian roots and those affiliated with Belarus.

A Belarusian project born in Lithuania

On August 31, the founding meeting of the non-commercial, non-partisan organisation Global Belarusian Leaders (GBL) took place at Vilnius City Hall. GBL aims to build a global network of accomplished professionals from Belarus and those affiliated with Belarus. The founders of the organisation claim that it seeks to connect and involve the Belarusian population living outside of Belarus in contributing to the economic, political, social and cultural development of Belarus.

When speaking about the future of GBL, Tatsiana Kulakevich, one of the founders and a local representative of the organisation in the USA, sees it as an association of professionals who will be able to give their country a hand during the period of its political and economic transformation.

According to one of the GBL founders Mikalai Tsimashenka “the idea of GBL was met with support and enthusiasm from different institutions particularly European Humanities University (EHU), German Marshall Fund of the US and Eastern Europe Studies Center (EESC). In addition to financial support EHU also offered venue for the founding meeting in Vilnius. All these organisations clearly see great potential of building a global professional network of Belarusians."

The idea of GBL came from Lithuania. The organisers followed the example of the Global Lithuanian Leaders organisation (GLL) established in 2009. GLL connects Lithuanian professionals in different fields from all over the world by organising such activities as World Lithuanian Economic Forum and Global Lithuanian Awards. GLL also offers mentoring for Lithuania’s growing businesses and Lithuanian students abroad.

The founders of GBL met at one of the annual meetings of Belarusian students studying abroad called the United Students of Belarus Rally (USB Rally). The Rally has taken place annually in Lithuania since 2007 under the auspices of the Vilnius-based Eastern European Studies Centre (EESC) which works on the promotion of civil society and democracy in Eastern Europe. Every year the USB Rally gathers dozens of students originally from Belarus who are studying abroad, mostly in Poland and Lithuania, but also in Czech Republic, Russia, Italy, USA and other countries.

USB rally is a unique meeting for Belarus. Within six years, USB Rally created a network of students involved in Belarusian activities in the countries where they study. GBL is a first joint project of the USB Rally participants, most of whom graduated from Western universities and are living abroad. They were able to attract successful young entrepreneurs from Belarus and abroad, well-known athletes and artists like the poet Valeryja Kustava and musician Zmicier Vaiciushkevich to GBL's founding meeting.  

If the GBL founders would make an attempt to register the organisation in Belarus, surely, they would have problems. Officially, there is only one “Global Belarusian Leader” in the country and even the name of the organisation can raise the suspicions of the registration authorities. For that reason, same as many Belarusian NGOs, GBL would have to be registered in Lithuania. It makes the functioning of the organisation much easier. The representatives of the organisation would have an opportunity to receive financial aid from international partners circumventing restrictive Belarusian legislation on foreign aid.

Influencing Belarus from abroad

Most of the founders and local representatives of GBL live abroad. Growing up in Belarus, they left Belarus to study in the European Union and USA. It became a common phenomenon after the presidential election of 2006 when hundreds of students were subject to repression at their universities and many western schools offered scholarships for them. As a result, thousands of students left Belarus. Mostly to Poland and Lithuania, where the European Humanities University, a Belarusian university in exile, renewed its activity in 2006. 

A majority of the students after graduation do not come back to Belarus and try to find work in countries where they studied. A permanent financial crisis and the political situation in the country are not at all attractive to young people educated in the West. 

Belarusians are going abroad not only to studying, but also to work. According to various estimates, from 200 thousand to 1 million Belarusian citizens are permanently living and working outside of Belarus. Moreover, according to a survey by the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies, 35.6% of Belarusians want to leave the country for different reasons. In these circumstances, GBL has all the opportunities to become a huge network of Belarusians abroad.

Belarusians, residing abroad and making careers in business, science or IT-industry very rarely take part in activities of conventional émigré associations that were established after the Second World War with the main idea to retain national traditions and to make a network of Belarusians throughout a particular city or a country.

GBL proposes another theory for its network. As the name implies, GBL intends to unite Belarusians all over the world with the main goal is to expand international ties and relationships, as well as establishing business contacts between Belarusians living abroad. In other words, instead of building churches and organising folk festivals, the new wave of Belarusian émigrés aims to help each other to make money and, thereby, increase their ability to promote their interests inside Belarus. 

Evidence of this trend can be seen in the events the organisation plans to hold in 2013-2014. The GBL will cooperate with BelBiz in a workshop “GBL as a platform for professional connections” during the Global Entrepreneurship week in Minsk in November 2013. Lithuanian representatives plan to run the conference "Belarusian Business in Lithuania: Perspectives." Moreover, GBL will have their representatives at the Eastern Partnership Summit and the 24th Economic Forum in Krynica-Zdroj (Poland).

It is too early to predict whether GBL will succeed. The obvious fact, however, is that latest members of the Belarusian diaspora have a huge potential to become a power that can influence Belarus now and even more so in the future. Such initiatives as GBL propose alternative ways to unite Belarusian immigrants globally.

Moreover, both immigrants and the country they left can benefit from GBL. Being united on a global level can help immigrants prosper, which, in turn will make a positive image of the country and, potentially, create an opportunity to improve the economic, political, social and cultural development of the country of their origin. Maryia Anishchankava, one of the founders and a local representative in Italy is hopeful that “within 5 years GBL will become a hub for Belarusians spread around the globe who want to grow personally and professionally..”

Vadzim Bylina is a researcher at the Institute of Political Studies 'Political Sphere' based in Minsk and Vilnius.

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