Round-Table 'Belarus after the Election: Revolution, Reform, or Stagnation?' Takes Place in Brussels (Photos + video)

A round table "Belarus after the election: Revolution, Stagnation or Reform" was held in Brussels on 24 November 2010.

The event was organized by the Office for a Democratic Belarus, in collaboration with the Centre for European Policy Studies and the European office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the support of the Open Society Institute. It was attended by members of the European Parliament, representatives of diplomatic missions and civil society organizations, researchers, journalists and students.

The debate consisted of two sessions during which experts acquainted the audience with the political and economic situation in the country and presented different scenarios for a post-election period. Belarusian experts spoke about external liberalization of the political situation in Belarus. In particular, the head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and one of the coordinators of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections", Aleh Hulak, described the current election campaign as more liberal in its political component as compared with 2006. He noted that the number of reported persecution cases against political and civil activists has significantly decreased, while the process of collecting signatures was free. Potential presidential candidates had the opportunity to convey their position to the people and could freely use national symbols. This could never happen in the past. Nonetheless, looking at the elections as a mechanism of political change, no significant change seems to have occurred. For example, the process of verification of signatures was closed to election observers, presidential candidates or journalists: and, this does not exclude the possibility that the numbers were manipulated. Moreover, the presence of opposition party members in the territorial and district commissions remained limited to 0,25%.

According to Hulak, it is not yet possible to single out a clear trend of development of the human rights situation in the country. On the one hand, the Government developed and signed a new national security concept that recognizes the role of civil society and political parties and pays attention to human rights. On the other hand, Article 193, which criminalizes the act on behalf of an unregistered organization, remains in force and is continued to be used as an instrument of pressure on civil society activists. Thus, the authorities are not ready to give up total control: though they are trying to find a less explicit form of it.

The discussion also touched upon issues of Belarusian-Russian relations and cooperation prospects between Belarus and the European Union.

Pirkka Tapiola, Senior Adviser from Policy Unit of the EU Council Secretariat , noted that significant changes in relations between Belarus and the EU began to occur in 2008, when, following the release of a number of political prisoners, the EU suspended visa ban against a number of Belarusian officials, thereby also lifting restrictions on bilateral political level contacts. The EU's policy was one of critical engagement, as was also seen in Belarus' inclusion in the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership. At the moment, despite the absence of a contractual basis between the EU and Belarus, EU Council bodies were discussing a Joint Interim Plan and should soon receive mandates on negotiations on visa facilitation and re-admission agreements. The signing of agreements on the order of mutual trips of residents of border areas between Belarus, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania were also welcome. Tapiola noted that an important test for the development of future relations would be the forthcoming presidential elections. What was important was not the result of the elections but their conduct. The vote needs to be held in accordance with internationally agreed standards and take into account the recommendations of the OSCE.

Commenting on Belarusian-Russian relations, director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies Vitali Silitsky suggested that, for the moment, Russia would refrain from supporting a particular opposition candidate: in the past, such a practice has often resulted in an immediate failure of their protégés. Moscow would probably wait until there is a really strong candidate and then use the situation to their advantage.
Belarusian and European experts also agreed that the main challenge was awaiting the country in the post-election period and the type of the challenge would largely depend on the conduct of the vote.

Details about possible scenarios in the post-election period could be found in the presentation of Vitaly Silitsky (download).


Other speakers:

Balázs Jarábik

Alexei Pikulik