“The geopolitical reorientation of Belarus is increasingly possible. If happens, it may well initiate deeper internal changes within the country. ” This was the main message of the conference ‘Belarus: Shaping the Space for Change” organized by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 11-12 November 2008. The conference offered an opportunity to reflect on the dynamics and prospects for political, economic, and social changes going on in Belarus in the new international and geopolitical context, created by the warming up of the relations between Belarus and the West, a military conflict in the Caucasus, and the world financial crisis. to reflect on the preliminary results of the dialogue pursued by the Belarusian authorities with the European Union. The event was attended by independent experts, civic activists, scholars, academics, and diplomats from Belarus, Russia, European Union, and North America. Participants included member of the European Parliament Jacek Protasiewicz; head of the EU delegation in Belarus Jean-Eric Holzapfel; head of the OSCE office in Minsk Hans-Jochen Schmidt; and former head of the ODIHR observers’ mission at the 2008 parliamentary elections in Belarus Geert-Hinrich Ahrens.
Panelists and discussants agreed that the dialogue between Belarus and the EU helped to somewhat soften the political climate in the country. The six month period of suspended sanctions shall be used to work out a clear, consistent, and benchmark-based conditionality policy, in the absence of which a chance for a greater political progress was not realized in the fall of 2008.
Conference participants noted that the economic and social model that came to the existence in the 1990s began to erode. This reflects in the transformation of the social base of the regime, the changing nature of its implicit social contract with the society, and the changing composition of the power elite. While this is not automatically bringing forth a democratic chance, a new window of opportunity for unleashing evolutionary transformative processes, extending the space for economic and social freedom, and modernizing the Belarusian economy and society, is in the making. This opening would be greatly extended if the West, and first of all the European Union, offered strong incentives to various elements of the Belarusian society and the government to move the country towards a liberalizing direction. “The European Neighborhood Policy demonstrated a very weak conditionality, and has to be replaced with a more comprehensive strategy,” says Sabine Fischer from the Paris-based Institute for Security Studies.
While Belarus made serious progress in reasserting its independence, much work remains to be done to ensure the institutional and infrastructural sustainability of the Belarusian state. In particular, Belarus is increasingly vulnerable to the challenges posed by the Russia’s increasingly assertive behavior while the worldwide economic crisis limits alternative survival strategies. While constructive solutions to the economic and geopolitical challenges need to be found, the independent expert community and civil society may play a greater role in producing policy alternatives, as well as bridging the gaps between the policy and expert communities of Belarus and Europe. The expert community should also take part in formulating the agenda for a dialogue and engagement, offering sectoral strategy that would concentrate on practical solutions to key challenges standing before Belarus, such as economic competitiveness, financial stability, energy dependence, sustainability of social services, etc.
The Vilnius-based Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies organized its second international conference in Kyiv as a follow-up to the discussion at the first forum carried out under the title ‘Towards a new vision of Belarus.” “Much had changed in Belarus and around it in this year,” says BISS director Vitali Silitski. “The expert community is taking shape and making a huge progress in working out a common agenda for the future work and cooperation. The new vision of Belarus, which we sought last year, had mostly been developed. Now we need a strategy to implement it.”
Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) holds on 11-12 November 2008 its second annual international conference under the title “Belarus: Shaping the Space for Change.” Leading analysts, politicians and diplomats from Belarus, the EU, Russia and North America, will gather in Kyiv, Ukraine, to discuss the prospects for political, economic, and social transformation in Belarus.
“There were many debates on possibilities of change in Belarus during the first BISS conference last year”, says BISS Director Vitali Silitski, - “Today it is obvious that the transformation of Belarusian power and the economy is under way. Much of it had been prompted by the external factors, such as energy tensions with Russia, Russia-Georgia war, and the world financial crisis. However, even more important are the internal sources for the change, such as ongoing modernization of the Belarusian society and the new context of its relations with the authorities. This transformation, however, takes place in the framework of authoritarian system and many of the initiated reforms are being undertaken in order to suppress the demand for political transformation. We need a better understanding of the nature and direction of transformation processes in order to see the prospects for Belarus’ evolutionary development and its movement towards a wealthy and competitive European nation”.
The key issue of the conference will be the assessment of the impact of the dialogue between the Belarusian authorities and the European Union and the United States. "Relative failure of Western diplomacy during Belarus' parliamentary elections should not lead to weakening of the efforts to promote transformation in Belarus. What is needed instead is a more proactive approach, which would be focused on encouraging transition in all sectors of Belarusian society, which would not be narrowed to a political agenda alone", argues philosopher Ales' Antsipenka, the BISS Board Chairman.
Discussions will be organized in six panels: Parliamentary elections of 2008 – results and implications; Belarus' relations with the European Union and the United States after the 2008 elections: lessons learned from the dialogue and confrontation; Russia-Belarus relations: agenda and trends under Medvedev and after Georgia; Belarusian Power – trends and generation changes; Belarusian economy: long-term threats and opportunities and Belarusian society: social contracts and space for change (presentation of social contracts study).
The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies was founded in 2007 as a platform for cooperation of Belarusian researchers, experts and analysts to work out an alternative vision of Belarus.