Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Conference of the National Platform of the Civil Society Forum of the EaP has taken place in Minsk on 5th of July

In Minsk, on July, 5th, the conference of the National Platform accepted a list of 31 civil society organizations recommended for participation in the third Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership in Poznań.

Representatives of more than 100 civil society organizations of Belarus, trade-union organizations, and Belarusian mass media, as well as representatives of the European Commission, embassies, and foreign organizations, took part in the conference.

Besides the independent organizations of Belarus’ civil society, this year, such pro-state organizations as the Belarusan Writers’ Union headed by Nikolai Cherginets, the official Belarusan Journalists’ Union, and the Federation of Belarusan Trade Unions (FBTU), as well as a number of branch trade unions of the FBTU, submitted their applications to participate in the Forum. The final list of the organizations, which will represent Belarus at the Forum in Poznań, will be formed on the basis of three kinds of recommendations: those from the National Platform, from coordinators of thematic groups of the Forum, and recommendations from the European Commission. Thus, the task of the conference was to define the list of the recommended participants.

According to the results of voting, 31 organizations out of 78 ones, which declared their desire to participate in the Forum, got into the list from the National Platform of civil society. Along with the well-known independent public associations, this list includes the official trade unions, too. The final decision about the structure of participants of the third Forum will be accepted by the Steering Committee of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership with the assistance of the European Commission in Brussels.

The conference began with the statement of the emergency situation in the country and symbolical applauses in sign of solidarity with the participants of the silent protest actions.

Janis Aizsalnieks, the representative of the Delegation of the European Commission in Belarus, addressed the participants of the conference of the National Platform with his complimentary speech. He marked that the Civil Society Forum is the most dynamically developing initiative within the scope of the Eastern Partnership. Ulad Vialichka, the co-chaiperson of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership and the national coordinator of Belarus, described in detail the role and tasks of the Forum in the actual situation, the basic directions of the work of the Steering Committee of the Forum within the latest year, and the problems of the development of the structures of the Forum at the national level.

The expert panel of the conference, in which Denis Melyantsov (BISS), Evgeniy Preigerman (Liberal Club), and Andrei Yahorau (center for European Transformation) took part, was devoted to the discussion of questions of the institutional role of the Forum and actual problems for Belarus’ civil society. The experts noticed that after the short period of the development of relations with the EU, including within the scope of the Eastern Partnership, Belarus returned again to the isolation situation. Today, two of the three dimensions of the Eastern Partnership – the Parliamentary Assembly EURONEST and the governmental level of cooperation - are actually inaccessible for Belarus. Only the Civil Society Forum remains a really working mechanism of Belarus’ participation in the initiative. It actualizes attention to the Forum and devolves more responsibility on civil society’s actions. As Denis Melyantsov marked, Belarus’ civil society should try to work out the general coordinated proposals within the scope of the Eastern Partnership. The expert connects these proposals with the actual for the country questions of releasing the political prisoners, the organization of European solidarity, and the expansion of support of civil society of the country. The director of the European Transformation Center Andrei Yahorau paid attention to the fact that the Civil Society Forum remains the last legitimate mechanism of Belarus’ communication and cooperation with the European Union. In this respect, the real civil society should be mindful of possible attempts of the state to monopolize the participation in the Forum by replacing independent public organizations with pro-state ones. Thus, the expert noticed that the tasks set before civil society during the previous forums, are not implemented to the full and need additional work.

The last stage of the conference was dedicated to the questions of the organizational development of the National Platform. Ulad Vialichka designated alternative variants of choosing the way of development: either to concentrate on specific questions of the Eastern Partnership, or to assume the responsibility for the solution of problems of the national scale, including the questions of political prisoners, economic crisis, etc. However, only the second way, from the point of view of Ulad Vialichka, will be an adequate answer to the challenges faced by the National Platform and civil society of the country. Sergei Lisichenok (Assembly of Belarus’ Non-Governmental Democratic Organizations) raised the question of the necessity to work out a general document, which would declare the values and principles of actions of the National Platform if the mandate of the National Platform is limited to the questions of the Eastern Partnership. Dmitry Dobrovolsky (Office for Democratic Belarus) described the experience of his organization in the initiative of the Eastern Partnership and marked the necessity of a non-discrimination approach to the participation of various organizations and initiatives of civil society in the work of the National Platform.

The general discussion showed the necessity of activization of work of civil society organizations to prepare a new structure of participants for representation at the following Forum, including both coordination of the substantial offers and development of a strategy of joint actions of the Belarusan delegation.

The Press Office of the International Consortium “EuroBelarus”

Project funded by the European UnionEU