Civil Society: towards common strategy
A conference organized by the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum on “The role and place of civil society in the Strategy of the Future” was held in Minsk on 11-12 April.
The event was attended by representatives of several non-governmental organizations of Belarus, heads and leaders of social movements, as well as experts of research institutes. The conference adopted four resolutions and, in particular, the National Strategy "We are one people!"
The special feature of the conference is its incorporation into the international platform of the Civil Society Forum, implying its legitimacy inside Belarus and also on the political arena of the Eastern Partnership Programme (it embraces 6 former Soviet countries) with access to the EU institutions. In the past there were no civil society institutions in Belarus with broad international legitimacy. The established dialogue with the political party (BNF) and movements ("For Freedom", "Tell the truth!") additionally strengthens this platform.
Recalling the adopted by the National Coordinating Council of the Democratic Forces on 11 April de facto ultimatum to the authorities about the conditions of participation of the opposition parties in election campaigns (see comment above), one can assume the configuration of the potential participants of the future negotiations between the government and the democratic forces (political parties and NGOs).
One of the sides in this configuration at this point is the largest political block (the National Council), which has already put forward harsh political demands. On the other side, there are Belarusian NGOs joined around the National Platform of the Civil Society Forum, with international support guaranteed by the “Eastern Partnership”, they proposed to the authorities and to the society as a whole to join a nation-wide discussion regarding the most pressing issues of political and public life, such as elections, activities of NGOs, geopolitical development strategy of the country.
The weak point of this configuration is that the representatives of political and civil society coalitions (the National Committee and the National Forum) have not yet agreed on a joint statement, which would be the best case scenario. However, the participation of the members of the National Committee and of the National Forum in the conference gives grounds to hope for future joint efforts of politicians and civil society representatives.
It is also important not to forget that the interests of political parties and civil society differ significantly at the moment. De facto, political party leaders consider it essential to maintain permanent conflict with the authorities for the survival of their institutions, while part of the civil society included in the National Platform, considers dialogue as means for survival. At the same time, the authorities consider both, political parties and civil society as having zero political force and they are not willing to start a dialogue with any of them. Today the authorities need the opposition to justify the existing problems, and to blame for the economic or policy failures.
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.