IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Belarusian National Platform's Statement on the Eve of the Riga Summit
19 May 2015
The Belarusian National Platform of the EaP CSF comprising 69 organizations adopted a statement on the eve of the Riga Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit expressing the concern about the situation in the EaP region, as well as the current condition and development of the EaP initiative as a whole.
The statement highlights the situation in Belarus that is deteriorating due to the authorities’ actions before the November presidential elections. The law that further limits the freedom of speech and allows to discriminate against independent internet media has been enacted. Human right defenders are expelled from the country; journalists are regularly under pressure due to their cooperation with the foreign mass media. The independent media and publishing houses are being persecuted. The number of political prisoners does not decrease in Belarus, the state continues to pass and enforce death sentences. Despite the authorities’ rhetoric about neutrality in the Russian-Ukrainian war, Russia’s military presence is growing in Belarus. The Russian information propaganda is being broadcasted without restrictions, while the values related to the Belarusian people’s identity remain marginal in the media.
The statement underlines that the EaP crisis is obvious as the initiative is not able to counter the Russian intervention, the fact that Armenia has left the path of its rapprochement with the EU, problems of developing the multilateral dimension of the initiative, the conservation of the authoritarian regimes in Belarus and Azerbaijan, and mass infringements of human rights in the region.
While Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have taken decisive steps towards their rapprochement with the EU, the Eastern Partnership may gradually be replaced by exclusively bilateral relations leading to the isolation and marginalization of relations with the outsiders of European integration (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus).
One of successful formats of multilateral interaction within the EaP framework is the Civil Society Forum and its National Platforms. The Forum has proved its role as an international platform of wide interaction between civil societies of the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU.
Belarusian National Platform puts forward the following suggestions for the EaP reform:
The existing format of the Eastern Partnership as a program aimed mainly at state structures should be replaced by the effective mechanism of civil societies’ obligatory participation in bilateral and multilateral EaP cooperation.
Within the EaP framework separate mechanisms of cooperation with such countries as Belarus should be developed. Civil society should have the priority in international contacts with Belarus.
The creation of the common information space of the EU and the partner countries should become a strategic direction, stipulating communication cooperation as a priority. Additional support should be provided to Belarusian independent mass media.
In the framework of EaP, actions aimed directly at citizens of partner countries should be implemented - unilateral cancellation of visas, expansion of the EU’s educational programs, credit and other support of small business, cultural exchanges, programs of developing contacts between people, etc.
Finally, the statement calls on the EU to condition all actions aimed at both bilateral and multilateral cooperation with official Minsk on concrete steps to restore civil liberties - first of all, the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners and the termination of pressure upon civil society and the independent mass media; as well as steps to really reduce the political, economic, and informational dependence on Russia.