Conference on the Role of Civil Society Groups and Local Authorities in Promotion of More Equitable, Open and Democratic Society

On May 25-27, 2009 the Association of the Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA), Lev Sapieha Foundation (Belarus), and the Municipality of Monfalcone (Italy) organized an international conference The Millennium Development Goals and the state of art in Belarus. The role of initiatives from civil society and local authorities in order to promote a more equitable, open and democratic society’.

The conference is part of the REACT Project (Reinforcing Actions of capacity building for civil society), which aims at strengthening the role of non-state actors and local authorities in the field of poverty reduction in the context of sustainable development, according to Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development targets.
The speakers included ALDA President Per Vinther, Lev Sapieha Foundation Chairman of the Board Miraslau Kobasa, Chief of the Mayor Cabinet of the Municipality of Monfalcone Lucio Gregoretti, ALDA’s head of External Relations Department Stefania Toriello, UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus Antonius Broek, INGO conference of the Council of Europe rapporteur Cyril Ritchie, and Director of the Brussels-based Office for a Democratic Belarus Olga Stuzhinskaya.

The speakers and the audience stressed the lack of knowledge on the potential role of non state actors and local authorities in providing sustainable development in Belarus as well as the lack of communication between them.
During the discussions the participants stressed the need for building up specific skills and capacities of civil society organizations as independent and autonomous structures that can voice the concerns of communities and citizens and improve the quality of concrete actions at local level.
Belarusian speakers mentioned the main problems NGOs in Belarus face in their everyday work. These include denials of projects’ registration, NGOs’ negative image in state-run mass media – the issue that often makes their cooperation with local authorities impossible; the pressure put on civil society activists, economic barriers for NGOs activities. In particular, the speakers noted that the existing regulations put civil society and business groups on the same shelf in terms of office rent, legal address, etc. At the same time, they mentioned that the space for cooperation has been slightly widening.
The representatives of Belarusian NGOs also explained that the system of power in Belarus is highly centralized. The local authorities have no need to create a positive image among the population as their success does not depend on voters but on their superiors. One participant stressed that it is of greatest importance to convince the local officials that cooperation with the most active part of society represented by NGOs’ activists is of mutual benefit to all.