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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.