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.
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.