Belarusian authorities step up dialogue with civil society to strengthen loyal NGOs
Last week, the Justice Ministry held a round table titled ‘The role and place of national associations in preserving and strengthening peace and accord in Belarus’ with participants representing more than 30 public associations. Apparently, by focusing on the work of associations dealing with national minorities, the Belarusian authorities aimed to demonstrate Belarus’ positive experience in integrating immigrants in Belarusian society. According to the Belarusian authorities, failed immigration policies in the EU member states is a sensitive issue and the EU could benefit from using the Belarusian approach in developing civil society. Despite statements by Belarusian officials about the rapid development of the third sector, independent observers insist on the absence of systemic positive change in the conditions for the civil society organisations’ activity. Nevertheless, the recent relaxation in political environment in Belarus has prompted the revival of the civic activity. According to independent analysts, the state stepped up the creation of state-controlled non-profit organizations, especially local ones and in the regions. This is probably due to the enhanced cooperation with the EU and EU grants opportunities to support civil society in Belarus. That said, the Belarusian authorities continue to avoid a domestic dialogue with the independent civil society organisations, which they regard as oppositional. Apparently, the Belarusian government aspires to minimize the influence of independent NGOs on the Belarusian-European agenda and seeks to replace them with loyal pubic organisations.
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.