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.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.