International support for the Belarusian opposition
On May 29th in Brussels, during the working group on Belarus at the Parliamentary Assembly of the EURONEST session, United Civil Party Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka proposed to audit foreign donor assistance to civil society in Belarus.
Liabedzka’s audit initiative could further drive the UCP party away from the political coalitions’ formation process in Belarus. The effective funding of Belarusian civil society through intermediaries in Europe problem does exist, but the key to its solution is rather in Minsk than in Brussels.
Liabedzka made his statement during the debate about the effectiveness of the support to the Belarusian independent media and in particular about various EU intermediaries’ role in the redistribution of funds from the primary donor to the final recipient in Belarus. This is a very interesting topic, which touches a complex system of donors, intermediaries, and recipients’ interests inside and outside Belarus. In Belarus, recipients are used to acting by the prevailingly informal rules.
In fact, the latter, - the existing system of funds redistribution - essentially marginalizes the UCP initiative to carry out the audit. Even if this proposal is supported by MEPs in Brussels, in Belarus the UCP initiative may be in a political vacuum, and will further limit the ability of parties to engage in political coalitions.
In particular, “For Freedom” movement leader Milinkevich said that he saw no room for such an audit. The leader of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party Organizing Committee Rymashevski took middle position: audit was needed, but without naming the funds’ recipients to protect them from prosecution.
Simultaneously, all the participants in this discussion directly or indirectly recognized that it would be impossible to improve the situation in Belarus in terms of foreign aid legalization and providing security guarantees at the same time. At the very least, Liabedzka and Rymasheuski’s proposals mainly addressed the potential ‘auditors’ from the EU, and not from Belarus.
Given the circumstances, foreign donor assistance’s audit - if carried out – will at best result in a shift of financial flows and in recipients’ regrouping. However, the fundamental problem remains unresolved: how political work in Belarus could be legalized – this problem roots in the extensive system of foreign intermediaries, and not always effective spending.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.