The situation

Alex­an­der Lukashen­ko is the mas­ter of the “House of Belarus”, he scru­pu­lously represses mani­fest­a­tions of res­ist­ance with­in the country’s social and polit­ic­al struc­tures and circles, and he enjoys the rewards of reject­ing closer cooper­a­tion with the European Uni­on and its mem­bers, which have been forced by the Euro crisis to focus on their own affairs. These rewards come in the form of cheap prices for oil and gas deliv­er­ies and loans from Moscow. The eco­nom­ic situ­ation in the coun­try has improved and so the people’s apprais­al of Lukashen­ko has improved too.

New chal­lenges for Lukashenko’s regime are emer­ging: The imple­ment­a­tion of the Rus­si­an Federation’s admis­sion to the World Trade Organ­isa­tion (WTO) in June 2012 – Minsk and Astana are con­nec­ted by the three-coun­try uni­on with the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion in the “Euras­i­an Eco­nom­ic Area” – forces Minsk to accept Moscow’s WTO oblig­a­tions. Belarus­i­an products are faced by new com­pet­i­tion on the Rus­si­an mar­ket. Moscow’s scope for manip­u­lat­ing the price of oil and gas to bene­fit polit­ic­al cli­ents like Belarus is dis­ap­pear­ing. Minsk has to read­dress the unsolved prob­lem of renew­ing its own indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion poten­tial. When deal­ing with this issue, there is no altern­at­ive to reach­ing an under­stand­ing with the European Uni­on in order to attain the mod­ern­isa­tion needed as a basis for the state’s inde­pend­ence. Whilst the country’s inde­pend­ence is endangered in the long term by Russia’s polit­ic­al approach to Belarus, it is anchored firmly in the European Union’s cooper­a­tion with the coun­try. The top­ic of mod­ern­isa­tion is part of the European Union’s dia­logue with civil soci­ety in Belarus, which is con­vinced of the neces­sity of this now urgent pro­cess. It could become the cent­ral top­ic of the European Uni­on and its Mem­ber States’ cooper­a­tion with gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and civil soci­ety, and open up a pos­it­ive per­spect­ive for the coun­try on the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket. There is no short­age of inform­al con­tacts with sec­tions of the gov­ern­ment­al appar­at­us in this area.

Con­fron­ted with polit­ic­al protest estab­lish­ing itself on the squares and streets of Moscow and oth­er cit­ies, Putin is, in his new term in office as Pres­id­ent of Rus­sia, becom­ing Lukashenko’s accom­plice in the polit­ic­al struggle which turns the resources of auto­crat­ic pen­al and police law against the nation­wide mani­fest­a­tions of non-par­lia­ment­ary oppos­i­tion.

On 23rd Septem­ber 2012, par­lia­ment­ary elec­tions were held in Belarus. The elec­tions, which were described by observ­ers as the most bleak and bor­ing of the Lukashen­ko era, exposed the deep crisis facing both the regime and the Belarus­i­an oppos­i­tion. Fol­low­ing the announce­ment a week before elec­tion day that sec­tions of the oppos­i­tion were with­draw­ing their can­did­ates and call­ing for an elec­tion boy­cott, only 313 can­did­ates actu­ally took part in the elec­tions for 110 seats in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, an organ which is largely devoid of influ­ence. Domest­ic and inter­na­tion­al elec­tion observ­ers have evid­ence of viol­a­tions of both Belarus­i­an elect­or­al law and inter­na­tion­al oblig­a­tions in all phases of the elec­tion pro­cess – from the form­a­tion of the elec­tion com­mis­sions through to the vote-count­ing pro­cess on elec­tion day. The elec­tion turnout, which was offi­cially recor­ded as being 74.4 per­cent, was prob­ably, accord­ing to elec­tion observ­ers’ estim­ates, around 10 to 15 per­cent lower. A low elec­tion turnout and soci­olo­gic­al poll res­ults point to the people los­ing trust in the gov­ern­ment and the ille­git­im­ate state elite becom­ing increas­ingly isol­ated from the rest of soci­ety.

Whilst strug­gling with Lukashen­ko, the European Uni­on had, as of March 2012, brought sanc­tions against the Belarus­i­an Pres­id­ent and 242 mem­bers of his state admin­is­tra­tion, as well as sev­er­al busi­ness­men close to him (bans on travel, freez­ing of assets and bank accounts). This is, regard­less of the meas­ures’ rel­ev­ance for polit­ics and the eco­nomy of the coun­try as whole, an act of solid­ar­ity with those polit­ic­ally per­se­cuted by the regime, who are suf­fer­ing in pris­on as vic­tims of the polit­ic­al justice sys­tem. Thir­teen polit­ic­al pris­on­ers, amongst them oppos­i­tion lead­ers and human rights cam­paign­ers arres­ted in Decem­ber 2010 after the pres­id­en­tial elec­tions, such as the party lead­er Nikolai Statkevich and the human rights defend­er Ales Byalyat­ski, are in work camps or pris­ons where some are sub­jec­ted to par­tic­u­larly harsh con­di­tions.

The inter­na­tion­al com­munity is also anxiously observing the deteri­or­at­ing situ­ation in the area of human rights. On 5th July 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Coun­cil decided to estab­lish a Spe­cial Rap­por­teur for the human rights situ­ation in Belarus. The UN Human Rights Coun­cil demands the imme­di­ate release of polit­ic­al pris­on­ers, an invest­ig­a­tion into alleg­a­tions of tor­ture and the sus­pen­sion of all crim­in­al pro­sec­u­tion and of activ­it­ies of per­se­cu­tion car­ried out by the admin­is­tra­tion and the police against cit­izens of the coun­try simply for act­ing accord­ing to their basic con­sti­tu­tion­al rights.

The European Union and Belarus

With­in the frame­work of the East­ern Part­ner­ship, the European Uni­on has begun, along­side tra­di­tion­al rela­tions with the gov­ern­ments of this region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Geor­gia, Mol­dova and Ukraine) to also devel­op dir­ect rela­tion­ships with the emer­ging civil soci­ety struc­tures and to incor­por­ate them into the pro­cess of polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic approx­im­a­tion of these coun­tries to the European Uni­on. The mod­el of cooper­a­tion with civil soci­ety cur­rently prac­tised in these coun­tries – the annu­al events of the “Civil Soci­ety Plat­forms” of the East­ern Part­ner­ship – is insuf­fi­cient and leads to a dead end, as agreed upon by the par­ti­cipants – not­with­stand­ing the pos­it­ive sum­mar­ies which are pub­lished fol­low­ing the con­fer­ences. Sus­tain­ab­il­ity and pro­ductiv­ity of this import­ant pro­cess can­not be achieved in this way. The pro­cesses of demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion should help the people and the regions to con­nect the indus­tri­al and com­mer­cial com­pon­ents of eco­nom­ic mod­ern­isa­tion with the cor­res­pond­ing social pro­cesses, above all with train­ing and the align­ment of exist­ing struc­tures with mod­ern forms of com­mu­nic­a­tion and man­age­ment. The European Uni­on and the Mem­ber States’ instru­ments of cooper­a­tion are still under­developed and require qual­i­fied improve­ment.

The “col­our revolu­tions” in the post-Soviet soci­et­ies, and also in the West­ern Balkans, have showed that the remov­al of an author­it­ari­an regime does not auto­mat­ic­ally lead to demo­crat­isa­tion in the long-term. Draw­ing on this exper­i­ence, the European Uni­on should devel­op a struc­tured approach to com­mit long-term to strength­en­ing civil soci­ety in Belarus. The situ­ation in Belarus is fur­ther com­plic­ated by the fact that the regime can­not be a part­ner of the European Uni­on because of its wide­spread acts of repres­sion and because of a proven lack of reli­ab­il­ity. This is anoth­er reas­on why the European Uni­on should view Belarus­i­an civil soci­ety as its primary part­ner. The European Union’s mod­ern­isa­tion dia­logue with Belarus­i­an civil soci­ety, which star­ted this year, is in line with this devel­op­ment and is the right approach. The Civil Soci­ety For­um of the East­ern Part­ner­ship has estab­lished itself as a valu­able instru­ment for cooper­a­tion with civil soci­ety. It is in Belarus, whose organ­isa­tions are par­tic­u­larly act­ive in the For­um, where there has been a strength­en­ing of links with­in nation­al civil soci­ety. Cooper­a­tion and exchange of exper­i­ences with for­eign organ­isa­tions with­in the frame­work of the East­ern Part­ner­ship also seem sens­ible. The For­um can also oper­ate as a com­pet­ent con­tact per­son and adviser for the European Uni­on.

How­ever, the Civil Soci­ety For­um is so far lack­ing an appro­pri­ate organ­isa­tion­al struc­ture which would guar­an­tee its con­tin­ued and effect­ive work. A sec­ret­ari­at is cur­rently being set up. Its per­man­ent fund­ing should be secured by the European Uni­on. It should also be con­sidered wheth­er the For­um can be provided with enough funds to be able to fin­ance pro­jects inde­pend­ently. It is debat­able wheth­er polit­ic­al bod­ies can over­come the exist­ing defi­cits in the coordin­a­tion and legit­im­isa­tion with­in the For­um without inter­fer­ing in the autonomy of its self-organ­isa­tion. The For­um must carry out its own meas­ures towards increas­ing its abil­ity to oper­ate. In order to guar­an­tee the inde­pend­ence of the For­um from the exec­ut­ive admin­is­tra­tions of the European Uni­on, the European Uni­on should first and fore­most offer sup­port by provid­ing expert­ise and by mak­ing this expert­ise more eas­ily avail­able.

As well as the mod­ern­isa­tion dia­logue and the Civil Soci­ety For­um, civil soci­ety in Belarus also requires fur­ther fin­an­cial sup­port from with­in civil soci­ety. That said, this sup­port should be spread as broadly as pos­sible to pre­vent mono­pol­ies and to lim­it the unavoid­able mis­dir­ec­tion of funds caused by sup­port­ing fraud­u­lent organ­isa­tions.

The award­ing of funds to sup­port civil soci­ety in Belarus should be adap­ted to the par­tic­u­lar con­di­tions of the author­it­ari­an regime and made less bur­eau­crat­ic. In Belarus, the long and com­plic­ated form­al­it­ies of applic­a­tions and the demands for detailed book­keep­ing for organ­isa­tions which have to oper­ate illeg­ally are out of touch with real­ity. Inde­pend­ent sup­port organ­isa­tions show how funds can be made more eas­ily avail­able. Of sec­ond­ary import­ance is the ques­tion wheth­er the funds should come from the European Union’s exist­ing instru­ments or from the “European Endow­ment for Demo­cracy”, which is cur­rently being estab­lished.

The instru­ment of Human Rights Envoy of the European Uni­on, which has now been cre­ated and for which cooper­a­tion with civil soci­ety in the part­ner coun­tries in East­ern Europe must also be import­ant, has a role to play along with the devel­op­ment of aca­dem­ic centres and fac­ulties for the study of demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion in East­ern Europe, includ­ing at the European Human­it­ies Uni­ver­sity in Vil­ni­us, but not only there. The cre­ation of Belarus­i­an academies with and by Belarus­i­ans liv­ing abroad can also play an import­ant part in this long-term pro­cess.

Ideas of cre­at­ing an exile gov­ern­ment or rein­carn­at­ing the polit­ic­al struc­ture the “RADA”, which was foun­ded in exile after 1919, are unlikely to be met with much sup­port because – in spite of the many polit­ic­al con­flicts with the gov­ern­ment in Minsk and its lack of demo­crat­ic legit­im­isa­tion – there is no inten­tion of clos­ing the door com­pletely on the oppor­tun­ity to cooper­ate closely with the gov­ern­ment.

EU Com­mis­sion­er Füle – respons­ible for the East­ern Part­ner­ship – has repeatedly spoken out in favour of the devel­op­ment of act­ive rela­tions with the civil soci­et­ies in the coun­tries of the East­ern Part­ner­ship.

Suggestions – Recommendations

  1. Fur­ther devel­op­ment of the concept of cooper­a­tion with civil soci­ety in the areas of trans­form­a­tion of state order, grass-roots industry, com­merce and agri­cul­ture and the social struc­tures and organ­isa­tions in the coun­try.
  2. The cre­ation of trans­form­a­tion centres and fac­ulties for the study of demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion at European uni­ver­sit­ies and at research and aca­dem­ic insti­tutes in East and West for the devel­op­ment of per­son­nel with spe­cial­ist aca­dem­ic train­ing. Sys­tem­at­ic cooper­a­tion with those research insti­tutes which have already been set up in the area of civil soci­ety must form part of this per­spect­ive (e.g. IISEPS, Minsk).
  3. Visa-free travel is of high psy­cho­lo­gic­al value for the cred­ib­il­ity of the East­ern Part­ner­ship in East­ern Europe – a part of East­ern Europe which con­tin­ues to see itself as mar­gin­al­ised in the Europe of the European Uni­on.
  4. The demand for the relo­ca­tion of the 2014 ice hockey World Cham­pi­on­ships from Minsk to anoth­er host city remains on the inter­na­tion­al agenda in spite of the Inter­na­tion­al Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion affirm­ing its stance in favour of keep­ing Minsk as host city in June 2012.
  5. Ger­man fund­ing should be used to sup­port civil soci­ety with the aim of:
    • help­ing polit­ic­ally per­se­cuted people and their fam­il­ies in the long term – human­it­ari­an aid
    • accen­tu­at­ing the trans­form­a­tion pro­cesses in soci­ety, polit­ics, busi­ness and edu­ca­tion as a sub­ject of teach­ing, research and spe­cial­ised train­ing and
    • pro­mot­ing instru­ments of the inde­pend­ent media.
  6. With the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund’s loans, which have already been paid, and with its mar­ket for Belarus­i­an oil products, the West con­trib­utes sig­ni­fic­antly to the eco­nom­ic sta­bil­ity of the regime, above all by sup­port­ing the oil pro­cessing indus­tries. The export of these goods makes up around 40 per­cent of Belarus’ exports and is one of the most import­ant sources of income for the pres­id­en­tial appar­at­us. This role should be recon­sidered. The EU sanc­tions should be tightened. Spe­cif­ic com­pan­ies could be hit with sanc­tions – above all oil pro­cessing firms.