Andrei Yahorau: We cannot clearly say that the situation is changing for the better

Siarhei Kazhukou, EuroBelarus Information Service

The conference Belarusan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum “Development of the National Platform: new strategies” analysed the external and internal challenges arising from the new political circumstances of Belarus-EU dialogue’ development.

The conference took place on 23 April in Minsk. In the course of it the Strategic Plan of the Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF (BNP) work for the period of 2016-2018 was approved and the “Road Map of cooperation of the EU Delegation in Minsk and Belarusan NGOs” was adopted.

Andrei Yahorau, the head of the Center for European Transformation, commented on the results of the conference for the EuroBelarus Information Service.

— I wouldn’t say that this conference was very determining for the National Platform. At the conference the decisions related to the completion of the process of formalizing the new BNP strategy for the future were adopted, whereas this strategy doesn’t bring any new stances and solutions.

All that has been discussed before, and reinforces the trends, which were determined one— two years ago. They are connected with the expansion of civil society participation in Belarus-EU dialogue, with the work to increase the capacity of the National Platform members to engage in the dialogue with governmental bodies and so on.

Talking about the politically important things that correspond to the start of new relationship with the EU, we should mention the adoption of the suggestions of the National Platform re the Road Map of cooperation with the EU Delegation. These suggestions describe the position of the BNP that the delegation can consider and adopt if they comply with the general EU policy towards the civil society in Belarus.

— What's new in the strategy adopted by the BNP?

— The main provisions of the strategy are related to cooperation with the EU in terms of democratization and Europeanization of Belarus, broadening of dialogue with the Belarusan authorities, expanding the potential, coordination, and consolidation of the civil society. There is, probably, nothing new that we haven’t heard from the National Platform in the course of the past three years.

— What about the Road Map?

— The issue is not so much related to what is written in the Road Map.

The problem of the Belarusan Road Map is that it has been accepted, but it hasn’t become effective, it wasn’t publicly discussed. Now the question is how to make a public discussion, how to present the principles, how to criticize something, how to offer our own vision of the situation, to join the official correspondence and dialogue regarding this Road Map.

— If we consider the period since the last spring, when the Belarus-EU relations were adjusting, how did the attitude of the European institutions to the National Platform change?

— Contacts have increased substantially since that time. We see a greater openness on the part of the EU. It seriously expands the dialogue.

The important thing is that the Belarusan civil society, the National Platform took part in the first meeting of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group, which took place on April 6-7 in Brussels. It was attended by the representatives of the Belarusan Foreign Ministry, some Belarusan ministries, and specialized departments of the European Commission. At the same time civil society representatives also participated in the meeting and had the opportunity to voice their suggestions for the negotiation process.

This is a very important sign, although we cannot say that it symbolizes the change of the situation, the start of a dialogue with the civil society. But it is a positive sign.

— The improvement of Minsk-EU was beneficial for the civil society, wasn’t it?

— For now it was beneficial for the dialogue and for some new opportunities of communicating with the Belarusan authorities. But these are rather isolated phenomena in relation to dialogue between the authorities and civil society; we cannot say that there are some systematic significant changes there.

We cannot clearly say that the situation is changing for the better. The head of the EU Delegation in Minsk Andrea Victorine mentioned that, too. She said that there are people who want to move faster, while the others, on the contrary, want to slow down the process. Now the work of the European delegation aims at involving the civil society in the dialogue process as much as possible.

— It was clear from her words that she is interested in listening the opinions of Belarusan NGOs.

— Yes, the European Union is interested in it. In the situation when the relationship between the parties changes, apparently, new opportunities for broader dialogue with the authorities appear. They promote these things, which are, basically, fundamental for them. These provisions correspond to the main areas of EU policy towards the civil society in general.