Statement of the Participants of EaP CSF National Platform about Possibilities for a Dialogue

Statement

by representatives of civil society groups in Belarus
members of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum
on current development of the dialogue between the government of Belarus and civil society organisations

Minsk, 26 October 2010

We, representatives of the civil society sector in Belarus, members of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, closely follow the activities of government organisations and different initiatives on promoting the dialogue between the government and civil society in Belarus.

The Belarusian civil society today is operating under unfavorable conditions which do not allow the former to represent an equal party in a dialogue with the government. Existence of criminal punishment for activities on behalf of unregistered initiatives, unjustified denials to register public associations and other types of non-profit organisations, ignorant approach towards already existing platforms for dialogue by the government demonstrate its top-down approach towards civil society in Belarus. This situation cannot be seen as complying with European norms and principles that govern relations between the civil society and the state; it certainly requires changes that would allow enhanced capacity for a constructive dialogue on equal terms.

On October 22, 2010 the Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum received a joint address by representatives of the Civil Society Advisory Council under auspices of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus expressing its willingness and interest of Council’s members to join the activities of the EaP Civil Society Forum.

The participants of the National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum welcome this intention and are open for a discussion regarding Council's participation that needs to be in compliance with norms and principles of the Forum despite the fact that the Civil Society Advisory Council is not considered as a civil society body in Belarus.

The National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Forum expresses its serious concern and pays close attention to activities in the framework of the project "Capacity building for cooperation between state and public organisations" which is aimed at building national civil society platforms. According to statements in the press, the given project is supported by the European Commission and is being carries out in cooperation with the international organisation CIVICUS and the OSCE.

The National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum would be delighted to support any practical steps of the Belarusian authorities, as well as any other parties which lead to convergence with civil society. It is open to negotiation of practical steps. However, we do not posses enough reasons to believe that above mentioned platforms and structures established in the recent months are truly focused on an equal dialogue with civil society. The reasons for our lack of trust are as follows:

    * Initiators of new platforms disregard activities of the National Platform for Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, as well as other already existing platforms for dialogue (educational, human rights, environmental, youth, etc.). The former do not express interest in participation in events and meetings and neglect significant documents developed by the National Platform and other relevant groups ("road maps" on different thematic topics, the concept of the development of the EaP Forum and its national platform).
    * There is lack of publicity and transparent procedures on the side of the new platform organisers with regard to selection of participants, certain public statements do not correspond with real activities.

On October 24, 2010 representatives of the National Platform for Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, after failing to receive the organisers’ invitation took initiative and participated in a meeting of the core expert group of the project "Capacity Building for the cooperation of state and public organisations”. The purpose was to hold negotiations on procedures and principles of potential formation of different civil society platforms in Belarus. As the result of the meeting, the two parties reached certain degree of understanding and agreed that civil society platforms could emerge only on principles of “bottom-up” self-organisation, inclusiveness, transparency, publicity and subsidiarity. Initiatives, rejecting these principles, will be destructive for the very possibility of a dialogue between the government and civil society.

Thus, we consider it necessary to state that:

1. During the conference in July 2010, the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum decided to draft "road maps" that correspond with activities and priorities of the Forum's four thematic platforms and working groups. Currently, experts and civil society activists developed and submitted for further discussion and implementation detailed programs and/or road maps on municipal reform, freedom of religion, culture, and development of scientific research. In the near future, similar draft programmes on education, youth policy, environmental security and other will be developed as well.

2. We are ready to support any practical steps undertaken by the Belarusian authorities towards strengthening ties with the civil society at the official level. The cooperation should develop in form of a dialogue between equal partners and be built around national interests of the country.

3. Belarusian public associations, political parties, non-profit institutions, associations, trade unions, religious organisations and informal initiatives do not acquire today any substantial foundation for fast creation of a national civil society platform. In order to accomplish this idea of establishing practical and equal dialogue between civil society and the state, all entities who are interested in developing such a platform, have a long and cumbersome path of achieving mutual understanding, considering mutual interests, setting the widest possible institutional framework of organisations and initiatives, developing the practice of delegating authority and other democratic mechanisms.

4. Considering the aforesaid, we propose to initiators of establishing state-supported civil society platforms to continue step-by-step discussion and harmonisation of the positions at expert and public level. The “vertical scheme” of cooperation between the state and civil society which has been proposed by organisers,   strategic objectives of such cooperation, safeguards and mechanisms have to be widely and publicly discussed before platforms are established. 

5. We invite representatives of the Civil Society Advisory Council under auspices of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus, as well as the initiators of the project "Capacity building for cooperation between government and public organisations” to meet with members of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. The meeting would be devoted to preparation of the Belarusian delegation for the Forum in Berlin. The meeting will be held on November 1st, 2010 at 14h00-19h00 in the premises of the Minsk International Education Centre (pr. Gazety “Pravda”, 11).

Signed:

Siarhei Mackevich, Speaker of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, Assembly of NGOs of Belarus
Uladzislau Vialichka, National Coordinator of EaP Civil Society Forum on Belarus, International Consortium EUROBELARUS
Tatsiana Hatsura, International Helsinki Association on Human Rights
Ihar Lalkou, Belarusian Popular Front “Adradzhenne”, Minsk oblast’ public association “Belarusian Voluntary Society of Protecting Monuments of History and Culture”
Olga Stuzhinskaya, Office for a Democratic Belarus (Brussels)
Iryna Vidanava, "34 Multimedia magazine"
Dmitry Karpievich, Public Union “Education Center “POST”
Aliaksandr Karalevich, Public Union “Education Center “POST”
Tatiana Poshevalova, Public Association “Centre of Social Innovations”
Andrei Yahorau, Centre for European Transformation
Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya, Humanitarian Technologies Agency
Uladzimir Matskevich, Humanitarian Technologies Agency
Elena Tonkacheva, Enlightening Institution "Centre of Legal Transformation"
Aliaksandr Lahvinec, Human Rights Public Association “Movement “For Freedom”
Aliaksandr Adamiants, “New Europe” magazine
Zhana Litvina, Public Association "Belarusian Association of Journalists"
Miraslau Kobasa, Enlightening Public Association “Leu Sapieha Foundation”
Siarhej Drazdouski, Public Association “National Association of Wheelchair Users”
Iryna Zhykhar, National Public Association “Belarusian Organization of Working Women”
Irina Sukhij, Public Association “Ecohome”
Dzianis Meliantsou, Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies
Siarhei Varankevich, National Public Youth Association “Civic Forum”
Sviatlana Karaleva, National Council of Youth and Children Organizations “RADA”