The Belarusian Civil Society: dynamics of change in an unfriendly environment

Aksana Shelest, Andrei Yahorau, Olga Smolianko

We present a Discussion paper of dynamics of changes in the Belarusian civil society in 2015-2017.

Since the mid-2000s, the civil society has been an integral part of international and national development policies. A multi-stakeholder dialogue with the full participation of civil society as an actor in its own right is recognized as a necessary element for sustainable development, promotion of democracy, social justice and human rights. This means, inter alia, that creating an enabling environment for the development of civil society and developing the civil society itself becomes part of sustainable development policies. A important number of international and national actors are engaged in such activities, including support for the development of civil society in Belarus. Such actors need evidence-based and case-study assessments of the state and development of civil society. And, most importantly, it is necessary that such assessments come not only from external observers, experts and academic institutions, but also from the civil society itself. This paper presents the results of a participatory study of civil society in Belarus, carried out on the initiative of the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (BNP). The study is based on the expert opinions of participants from different sectors of civil society in Belarus, who not only acted as a source of data, but were actively involved in the process of programming the study and discussing its results. In this sense, one can say that the presented data is a self—report of the civil society of Belarus on the state of its own development over the last three years (2015-2017).

This paper summarizes data on 15 sectors of civil society in Belarus (see Chart 1), their most significant actors, the state of internal cooperation, problems, current trends and the most significant events; the state of inter-sectoral cooperation and cooperation of civil society organizations with the state; legal, financial, political and institutional conditions for civil society in Belarus. It is not possible to reflect in this short paper all the aspects included in the main report of the study, so its main focus will be on the most important features from the authors' point of view. Read the full report in Russian.

The study was carried out by experts of the Center for European Transformation and the Legal Transformation Center (Lawtrend) on the initiative of the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (BNP) in the period: field stage — February-July 2018, data analysis and interpretation — August-September 2018.

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About authors:

Aksana Shelest is a senior analyst of the Center for European Transformation, PhD in sociology. She graduated from the Sociology Department of Belarusan State University and did her postgraduate studies in the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, where she later worked as head of the sector of operational research methods and practices, as an academic secretary, and as head of the department of sociological studies techniques. She is an expert of the analytical group of the Humanitarian Techniques Agency. She is a laureate of the Award of the International Congress of Belarusan Studies in the nomination “Social and Political Sciences” (2013).

Andrei Yahorau is the director of the Center for European Transformation, master of political science. He graduated from the Politology Department of Belarusan State University and received his master’s degree in political science at the same university. Since 2001, he has been working in the field of political research. His research interests include post-Soviet territory transformation, civil society, political transformations in Belarus and the Eastern Partnership region, and European studies.

Olga Smolianko is a Belarusian lawyer, MA in political science and the director of the Legal Transformation Center (Lawtrend). She graduated from the Faculty of International Law and International Economic Relations of the International Institute of Labor and Social Relations (MITSO) and finished the master courses of the European Humanities University (EHU). As well as she graduated from the Higher International Course on Human Rights of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland).