Third Sector Expanding Despite Difficulties – Belarus Civil Society Digest
CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. The U.S. Agency for International Development CSO Sustainability Index to measure the progress of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia region. The report on Belarus suggests that despite the difficult environment in which it operates after the December 2011 presidential elections, the third sector is expanding its capacities. CSOs generate analytical products for use both within the sector, internationally, and in some cases even by the government.
The Belarusian Role Model. Youth magazine 34mag composed the portrait of an ideal Belarusian. The "researchers" found 50 ideal features relying on their own ideas. In particular, an ideal Belarusian is free, not nagging, speaks good Belarusian, knows the history of Belarus, open minded, ignores state propaganda, travels a lot and has a multiple entry Schengen visa.
Platforma presented the monitoring report. On June 21, CSO "Platforma" held a press conference devoted to the completion of monitoring of Belarusian prisons. The results were presented in the "Monitoring report on the issues of prison conditions in the prisons of Belarus." The report highlights that the major reason of the penitentiary system of Belarus is its absolute secrecy for civil society and human rights that provides the possibility of uncontrolled actions for prison staff.
Corporate volunteering in Belarus. On July 5, in the Minsk hotel "Europe", roundtable "Corporate volunteering in Belarus" will present the survey conducted by the Center for European Studies. The survey identifies trends and incentives for the development of corporate volunteering in the country.
Internet against drugs. The initiative "Antimak" has proposed to the Minsk police department to more actively use the Internet to combat the spread of poppy seeds which contain opium. Activists believe that the dissemination of the proper information through the Internet and media, including the police online resources, will enhance the atmosphere of intolerance for drugs and drug retailers.
Press conference on parking issues. On June 19, a press conference "Addressing the issues of parking on market principles" took place in Minsk. The event was organized by the Center for Environmental Solutions, Fund “Ecological Transport” and Minsk Cycling Community. The press conference presented a Program aimed at addressing the shortage of parking places in Minsk and based on three points: the zonal charge for parking, the formation of a new structure of parking services and the owner's responsibility for car parking.
Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign. The human rights defenders have launched a nation-wide election observation campaign ahead of the September parliamentary election at a press-conference held in Viasna’s office on June 21. The Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign is going to involve some 400 observers in 106 constituencies.
Electby started countdown. The interactive platform of monitoring elections has resumed its work before the parliamentary elections in Belarus, scheduled for September 2012. It is an open platform where anybody can share their experience and observations of the election campaign. Electby.org is powered by the platform Ushahidi (which means “evidence” in Swahili). It was created by a group of enthusiasts in 2010, before the presidential elections.
Civic Campaign "Nash Dom" (Our House) has launched the project to the parliamentary elections. The activists plan to continue their campaign 'Deputies – to the Answer!" that gathers and publishes information on all candidates, regardless of their political orientation.
Dzedzich invites to summer camp "Zalessie 2012." Brest NGO "Dzedzich" invites young people from all regions to participate in the volunteer camp, which will be held in the village Zalessie (Kamenets district, Brest region) on July 23-29. The volunteers will help in the reconstruction works of the house which will become a community center for young people. The camp will also provide cultural entertainment for the volunteers.
Volunteer historic camps 2012. Belarusian Committee of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) posted on its website a list of volunteer camps in 2012. The proposal is designed for amateurs of historical heritage, who are willing to spend the summer arranging the archaeological sites in the territory of Belarus. The list also contains the camps, held by NGOs – "Historyka", UNESCO, etc.
Summer School for experts and analysts. Analytical Center "Strategy" and the Research Centre "Mises" invite to their traditional Summer School for experts and opinion-makers from Belarus and other countries. The topic of this year is "Property and Justice. Belarus and the world at the threshold of the third industrial revolution." The School will be held on July 27-31 in Belarus.
Awards and Contests
“Belarus in Focus”. On June 20, the presentation of the book “Belarus in Focus: through the eyes of foreign journalists” took place in PEN-Center in Minsk. The book is a compilation of articles from an international competition for professional and citizen journalists writing about Belarus, held by Solidarity with Belarus Information Office in cooperation with Press Club Polska in 2011.
Essay contest. "Liberal Club" together with the CASE Belarus announces an essay contest "How to conduct market reform in Belarus: economic theory, the experience of foreign countries and the Belarusian specifics." The aim of the competition is to form a community of professionals in the field of market reforms. Two winners will pass a week-long internship in the Warsaw-based CASE office.
Award "For Freedom of Thought". On June 19, the traditional awarding ceremony "For Freedom of Thought" name of Vasil Bykau took place at Bykau's homeland, in the village Bychki, Vitebsk oblast. This year bronze statuettes went to local historian Alexander Belokoz and rock musician Lyavon Volsky. The award was established by the leader of the Movement "For Freedom" Alyaksandr Milinkevich in 2008.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Pawel Kowal: Treat Lukashenka with Respect
Among those surrounding Lukashenka there are people waiting for changes. They should get clear signals that their position will be rewarded and appreciated, because the fate of the revolution, evolution or other change that will inevitably come to Belarus at а crucial moment may depend upon them.
Getting sulky does not make sense, it is better to look for the weak links in the chain surrounding Alexander Lukashenka to establish communication channels with the regime. European tirades against the Belarusian president, at best, backfire as seen in what happened a few weeks ago with Guido Westerwelle and Radoslaw Sikorski, and in the worst case they fuel domestic propaganda that "Belarus is under attack." Under the very worst scenario an European reproach provokes retaliatory measures against the opposition. Despite Lukashenka's peculiar behaviour, his policy deserves a solid response: not just ambiguous ridicules, but a list of concrete conditions.
Determination was expressed by actions, but not by public quarrels or a growing number of public statements Read more
Did the US Secretary of State George Shultz and President Ronald Reagan shout or mock Wojciech Jaruzelski in the 1980s? No. There were a few harsh man-to-man comments and a long silence afterwards. Determination was expressed by actions, but not by public quarrels or a growing number of public statements. Lukashenka has to be treated with all seriousness: since prisoners may be tortured in Belarus, a large group of opposition activists live there in danger.
Let Us Build a Coalition
This may sound surprising, but Poland can do much more to influence EU policy towards Ukraine than towards Belarus. With regard to Minsk, after 2007 Polish diplomacy became a victim of European illusions, whose repeated discussions is a waste of space and time.
The balance of the Polish and EU policy towards Belarus after 2007 and, especially, after the falsification of the election on December 2010, proved to be negative. The policy unwittingly contributed to a deeper split within the Belarusian opposition and enhanced the dictatorial power in the coming years. The Union of Poles – the biggest non-Lukashenka social organisation in Belarus- is weakened, and Angelika Borys is gone.
It is worth mentioning that there were no talks about any serious sanctions other than the visa bans, which served only a symbolic function. Western diplomats openly discussed the possibility to persuade Minsk to engage in negotiations with any representatives of the opposition in order to justify another change of the course by the European Union. But Lukashenka seemed either not to understand the situation, or did not care for better relations with the EU.
Poland must have partners to build an effective policy towards Belarus, It will not happen without good relations and trust with Lithuania. European short-circuit arrays to Minsk must begin with the agreement of Vilnius and Warsaw: Minister Andronius Ažubalis must feel like a participant in the policy, now he says he finds himself on the sidelines.
Otherwise, Lithuania will make Brussels accustomed with the fact that this country has its own separate agenda for relations with Minsk Read more
Otherwise, Lithuania will make Brussels accustomed with the fact that this country has its own separate agenda for relations with Minsk. In the context of Belarus it should be also applied the same manoeuvre as to Kyiv and further engage the head of Swedish diplomacy, Carl Bildt. Stockholm's policy is driven, similar to Polish policy, more by human rights than investments: this is why co-operation of Sikorski with Westerwelle (they had slightly different objectives) to Minsk was not as efficient as could be effective in tandem with Bildt.
In any case, Lukashenka must know that Poland has partners who firmly stick to the European standards of conduct in humanitarian issues. It must be clear to him that political discussions with anyone from the European Union will not be possible until Ales Bialiacki and other political prisoners will remain imprisoned.
Diplomacy in Different Ways
For pursuing a policy in Minsk, one has to create unofficial channels of communication also with the authorities Read more
For pursuing a policy in Minsk, one has to create unofficial channels of communication also with the authorities. In the case of the destruction of official channels of communication, some kind of by-passes are needed – at this level Lukashenka is treating seriously his partners from the former USSR.
Contacts with the regime should be maintained by through the Georgian and Ukrainian diplomatic missions – even for those countries serious fulfilment of this mission would be a good "European exercise". Both in the Ukrainian government and parliament, and the top positions in Tbilisi there are people who have the opportunity to talk to Lukashenka personally, like Victor Yanukovich and Mikheil Saakashvili. Lukashenka himself recently indicated another channel – the Catholic Church.
the question remains, to what extent Belarus Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz would take a role as an intermediary Read more
Even in times of the most cooled relations with Minsk a meeting with its representatives were nunciatures, like that led by the then Archbishop Joseph Kowalczyk in Warsaw. In this context the question remains, to what extent would Belarus Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz take a role as an intermediary, if he avoids politics in Minsk even more than he did in Moscow. If Lukashenka is not sending only confusing messages, but makes a serious offer, is he able to treat the Catholic community as a subject, as Wojciech Jaruzelski did thirty years ago in Poland?
Another problem is the relative weakness of the Belarusian Catholic Church and the lack of tradition with its political involvement: by the way, the predecessor of Kondrusiewicz, a very deserved Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, avoided like the plague any nonreligious activities.
Allies on Both Sides
At an elegant French restaurant one of the members of the European Parliament tells a Belarusian anti-regime activist that the biggest problem in Belarus is the weakness of the opposition and divisions within it. We face a crucial question: what stance should adopt the European Union in relation to the opponents of Lukashenka?
Voicing constant accusations and reproaches that the opposition is divided is unproductive and annoying for opponents who are already cowed Read more
Voicing constant accusations and reproaches that the opposition is divided is unproductive and annoying for opponents who are already cowed. It simply cannot be otherwise in the circumstances where the Belarusian opposition activists have to work. And the case is even more mysterious that since as some observers point out Brussels (and also Warsaw) originally supported Alexander Milinkevich, whose name gathered activists associated from different groups . At some point, however, the competing candidates began to receive similar support, including the one having contacts with Moscow – a poet and the leader of the campaign "Speak the Truth!" Uladzimir Niaklyaeu.
today we have several pocket leaders divided over the question of whether democracy should be "a-la Brussel" or "a-la Moscow" Read more
Projects of above-mentioned activists were simultaneously supported by Brussels, Warsaw and Moscow. Eventually, Russia became the most important donor for democratic movements in Belarus. The post-Soviet world often tested the potential consequences of such policies, like most recently the colour revolution in Kyrgyzstan. While it is somehow possible to understand complains that the opposition is not uniform, the process of its further splitting is extremely difficult to accept. Three years ago, Milinkevich slowly matured into the role of leader; today we have several pocket leaders divided over the question of whether democracy should be "a-la Brussels" or "a-la Moscow".
the ruling elite will always have someone who does not want to end their political life with the fall of the dictatorship Read more
The truth is brutal: very few revolutions are made by revolutionaries themselves. Successive waves of transformation, especially so-called third waves including Poland, Hungary and Lithuania, but also the fourth – in Egypt and Tunisia show the sad truth. In Poland in 1989, Adam Michnik sought allies among the reformers in the Communist Party and the Kaczynski brothers. It is because the ruling elite will always have someone who does not want to end their political life with the fall of the dictatorship, and we need to "help" them. This policy has benefits but also costs.
In order for changes to start happening, in the last phase, co-optation of the current regime to the camp of the revolution takes place. It will be also like that in Belarus. Something similar will also happen in Belarus. Therefore, in addition to a revised approach to the opposition, the second important vector of the EU policy should be to work with the current ruling elite, and there are many different ways to do so.
Take a Deep Breath
Lukashenka will not conduct free elections (it is better for everyone to stop this wishful thinking), but one can push him to release prisoners and agree to some liberalisation of the media, abolition of censorship and the restoration of rights of national minorities.
Europe has to take a breath, stop being nervous and treat Belarus as a testing ground to implement the EU's foreign policy Read more
Meanwhile, Europe has to take a breath, stop being nervous and treat Belarus as a testing ground to implement the EU's foreign policy. But they should do so without counting on quick profits, without procrastination, and without the conversion of freedom for hard currency.
Poland still has a chance to translate the Belarusian failure into a success – we are justified to exert far more of an impact on the European Union decisions than ever. It should be a consistent policy for years to come. And successes will come sooner than some people think.
Pawel Kowal is a member of the European Parliament and a former deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland. He specialises in Eastern Europe. A longer version of this article appeared this month in Nowa Europa Wschodnia in Polish.