Friedrich Ebert Foundation forced to leave Belarus
Belarusian authorities refused to continue cooperation with a well-known global non-governmental organization from Germany. After the 2010 presidential election, the authorities deliberately narrow the range of alternative organizations inside the country that work closely with Western partners.
In December the Foreign Ministry of Belarus refused to renew the accreditation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Belarus “because the foundation’s activities did not fully meet the criteria for constructive cooperation with governmental agencies of Belarus”. In 2012 Minsk office of the Fund will cease its operation.
There is a reason to believe that such a move by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a reaction to the resolution of the Conference of the OSCE Civil Society in Vilnius on December 6. The resolution calls upon the international community to cease all cooperation with the Belarusian authorities that provides for financial assistance to them. FES in Minsk was an active mediator between the government and non-governmental organizations of Belarus therefore Foreign Ministry’s decision meant to demonstrate to the international community their readiness to purge the entire field of active NGOs in Belarus.
In the broader context the non-renewal of the accreditation of the representation of FES is a logical continuation of the policy of freezing of relations between Belarus and its Western partners, which were the most active partners in the program of liberalization of Belarus in 2008-2010, and in particular, during the campaign of legitimation of the 4th term of President Lukashenko in autumn 2010.
In particular it concerned Poland and Germany, as their foreign ministers visited Minsk in November 2010. It is obvious, the suspension of the lease agreement for the Polish Embassy premises building in 2012 and the non-renewal of the accreditation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for 2012 are links in one chain.
By restricting cooperation, Belarus narrows the range of non-governmental organizations that receive support from the West considered by the Belarusian authorities as agents of influence. In turn, the scope of international organizations which have the ability to directly influence the situation in Belarus is restricted simultaneously. Finally, the authorities start implementing the new legislation, which significantly tightens the rules of the game for theBelarusian civil society organizations with foreign funding.
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.