Ulad Vialichka: Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF discusses the strategy of gradual cooperation

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

The Belarusan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (BNP) aims at securing a place for civil society in the EU-Belarus dialogue and at taking care of keeping issues that are not a priority for governmental bodies on the agenda.

On April 23 Minsk will host the conference of the Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF — “National Platform Development: new strategies”.

Representatives of about 70 non-governmental organizations will gather in Minsk on April 23 at a special conference to analyze the current situation as well as external and internal challenges that the BNP faces.

The main objectives of the conference are to determine the subject areas in the BNP’s work, adopt the Strategic Plan for 2016-2018, and adopt the BNP Regulations as a guide in the work of the National Platform. The additional purpose of the conference is to discuss the “Road Map of cooperation between the EU Delegation in Minsk and Belarusan NGOs”.

The BNP conference will also be attended BNP partners and stakeholders: the head of the EU Delegation in Minsk Andrea Victorine, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus Sanaka Samarasinha, as well as representatives of other international institutions.

Ulad Vialichka, the co-chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum Steering Committee, the country facilitator for Belarus of the EaP CSF told the EuroBelarus Information Service about the aims and objectives of the forthcoming conference.

— What development strategies is the National Platform to discuss at the upcoming conference?

— Today we are talking about the strategy of slow, or gradual, cooperation. We must proceed from the actual situation that is formed in the EU-Belarus relations. Taking into account external factors and circumstances in relations between the EU and the official Minsk, we can talk about the fears that the civil society won’t be able to find its place in the bilateral relations. After all, the issues of democracy and human rights are not prioritized in the negotiations between the parties.

Our task is to secure a place for civil society in the Belarusan-European dialogue and take care of keeping issues that are not a priority for governmental bodies on the agenda.

National Platform wants to define a specific set of issues and priorities for the dialogue with other actors: the Belarusan government, the European Union, European NGOs, and after that try to progress with these issues, suggesting reasonable forms of cooperation: projects, campaigns, the negotiating process.

— On April 6-7 civil society representatives participated in the trilateral consultations “EU — Belarusan government — civil society” in on a par with the Belarusan government and European Commission members. National Platform aims at a full-fledged representation in the EU-Belarus cooperation. Do you have a vision of how to win the recognition of the Belarusan government and the EU bodies?

— Today we have accumulated a load of negative experience, so it’s undue to say that there is a “right recipe” for building relationships. I expect that the normalization of relations and certain reforms are needed for all the parties in the country now: some need them for economic reasons, some — for political, and some (for example, civil society) — for value. In this sense, we have a window of opportunity, however small: the key issues related to the presence of political prisoners in Belarus are removed from the agenda, which gives a chance to try to have a dialogue. National Platform is one of the actors, who are able to talk with the Belarusan authorities, and we will try to implement our tactics. And only time will tell whether it will be successful.

— What is a “Road Map of cooperation of the EU Delegation in Minsk and the Belarusan NGOs”?

— Each national delegation in the EU has documents that describe its nature, form, and type of relationship with civil society. When we learned about the existence of such a document for Belarus, we offered the delegation to discuss it and to transform it from the internal document into a common Memorandum of Understanding. This is the idea we will try to implement. At the conference, we would like to present and discuss the comments to the document on the part of the civil society. If they are acceptable, we will be able to talk about the common Road Map of relations.

— Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF cannot but be worried about the fate of the Eastern Partnership. Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski urged the EU to determine the fate of the Eastern Partnership. What is it about? Can the Belarusan National Platform influence the future of the EaP?

— Eastern Partnership is the EU’s initiative, with Belarus as one of the actors. A lot of factors, such as, for example, the recently aggravated conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh influence the future of the Eastern Partnership. Nobody in Brussels is going to radically change the existing format of the Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership is a part of the European neighborhood policy; the policy has been revised last year, and the Eastern Partnership has been given a certain place there.

Another thing is that the EU has rather modest ambitions re the participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership. The program has its own leaders, like Georgia, or outsiders, like Azerbaijan, and a number of countries, including Moldova and Ukraine that lost the reputation of the EaP vanguard due the problem of corruption. Therefore, Belarus currently has quite normal reputation: we have taken, even despite our own actions, the middle position the Eastern Partnership. It might be a good starting point for a new stage and for achieving certain progress.