Current issue: Conference of The National Civil Society Forum 2010 in Belarus

 Civil Society Forum 2010 in Belarus On 5-6 July, 2010 a Conference of the National Forum of Belarus’ civil society was held. The National Forum is an important part in the overall mechanism of civil society participation in the Eastern Partnership initiative. It has been designed to bring together and consolidate civil society positions at the national level, to elaborate the general strategy for the participation of Belarusian civil society representatives in the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (CSF) and to advance substantive proposals on taking this initiative further.
Additionally, the National Forum is entitled to recommend organizations for participation in the general Civil Society Forum to be convened on 18-19 November, 2010 in Berlin. Belarus has become the second after Armenia member-country of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) that has shaped a relevant national platform for civil society.

The Conference focused on the comprehensive evaluation of the EaP initiative progress, the current role of civil society, as well as its forthcoming tasks.

Ulad Vilalichka, CSF National Coordinator for Belarus, underlined a generally successful (and rather speedy, at that, by EU standards) EaP evolution and active civil society engagement in the process. At the same time, he drew attention to several negative points, such as the lack of contacts with Belarus’ government officials, insufficient public awareness of the EaP initiative, and inadequate resource base of CSF structures.

Vyachaslau Pazdnyak, Director of the Analytical Center “Wider Europe”, emphasized in his report at the plenary session that “Belarus’ civil society should safeguard EaP in all of its dimensions, even being cognizant of the fact that so far it has remained only a ‘window of opportunities’. This ‘window’ must be used as a framework for constructing both the desired ‘futures’ and also strategies for their attainment. It is no less important that as a common geopolitical project of EU 27 member-states and 6 partner countries the EaP is offering to Belarusian civil society unique opportunities for both self-fulfillment and for the realization of European ideals and values in

Andrey Jahorau, Director of the Centre for European Transformations, stressed that the near-term objective of the CSO development is to outline ‘agendas’ or ‘road maps’ for the EaP initiative advancement. In his opinion, “to facilitate preparation of such ‘road maps’ for thematic platforms the ‘Open Method of Coordination’ can be employed, which has proved to be efficient in the European Union. This method would allow to evaluate the degree of approximation of each country and the whole region to the EU common space through the strategy of soft governance, based not on sanctions, but on regular estimates and monitoring, study of best practices and public representation of evaluation results”.Conference participants agreed on the topical objectives of Belarus’ civil society and set forth the substantive priorities for work in each thematic area of the EaP. These priorities will serve as reference points for the “road maps”, which will be further worked upon after the Conference. The deliberations concluded that Belarusian civil society is only mastering the competencies required for joining the intergovernmental dialogue on an equal footing. Meanwhile, work on “road maps” is not only an indispensable component of preparation for the CSF in Berlin, but it is also stimulating growth and development of civil society itself.

Civil society representatives estimated Belarusian State activities and concrete steps within the framework of the EaP initiative as insufficient and expressed their intention to propose to the Public Consultative Council under the aegis of the Administration of the President of Belarus to include the issue of EaP and civil society participation therein as a special item on the agenda of one of the forthcoming Council meetings.

Yet another important Conference outcome is the nomination of Belarusian civil society organizations for participation in the CSF in Berlin in November 2010. The recommended list of 32 organizations drew on 88 applications received and will be taken into consideration, along with recommendations of European Commission Delegations, in the process of the final selection of participants in the future Forum.