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Andrei Yahorau: The EU has no one to talk to in the dialog on Belarusan modernization

27.02.2013  |  Politics   |  EuroBelarus Information Service,  
Andrei Yahorau: The EU has no one to talk to in the dialog on Belarusan modernization

What were Belarusan coordinators discussing during the meetings in Brussels and how can the European dialog on modernization develop?

Last week coordinators of the expert groups of the European dialog on modernization (EDM) were on a visit to Brussels. In the course of a number of meetings in the EU bodies, such as European External Action Service, European Commission, European Parliament and a number of others, the problems of possible further dialog development were under discussion. EuroBelarus Information Service asked the coordinator of the first working group “Political dialog and political reforms”, Director of the Centre for European transformation Andrei Yahorau to comment upon this meeting:

- Tell about the visit to Brussels: what was its aim, what the meetings were about and what are the results?

-  The first stage of the European dialog on modernization has practically finished this December; we didn’t manage to achieve much, though there are certain results. This visit was important both for the EDM coordinators and the representatives of different EU institutions that are responsible for relations with Belarus. It was some kind of mutual coordination: Europeans were willing to understand what happens in dialog on modernization and what they can do for it, while we wanted to understand what we are to expect from the EU. That is why there were lots of meetings at different levels – starting from the European Commissioner Štefan Füle, permanent representatives of the Working Party on Eastern Europe and Central Asia (COEST) to the Directorates-General of the European Commission.

- And who are those mysterious coordinators: who appointed them and who do they represent in general?

- There is no secret at all there. In the EDM four expert groups were formed: on political dialog and political reforms, on judicial reform and home affairs, on economic and social reforms, on trade reforms and control system. These groups appointed the coordinators. For now they are Iryna Tačyckaja (the IPM Research Center), Tatsiana and Aliaksandr Zialko (public association of Belarusan pensioners “Our Generation”), Dzianis Meliantsou, Aliaksei Pikulik and Aliaksandr Autushka-Sikorski (the Belarusan Institute for Strategic Studies, 1st and 3rd groups), Uladzimir Dunaeu (Independent Bologna Committee), Mikhail Pastukhou (2nd group) and I, the coordinator of the 1st group. Notably, there is nothing except these groups in the dialog. Neither opposition, nor state, nor civil society on a large scale…

- Well, the state is not admitted there, but what about the political parties and the civil society? Who prevents them from participating in the EDM more actively?

- No one prevents the state from participation in the EDM. State officials don’t want to have any relationship with the civil society themselves; that is why they are not getting in touch. Opposition parties are officially involved into the dialog, though they are not doing anything there; i.e. they can, but they don’t want to. And the situation is reverse with the civil society: it wants to work, but it can’t do a lot. The National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum is the most interested and active player, but it doesn’t have space for participation. There is no place for it at one table with political parties; but, at the same time, no one provides separate place for it. For now civil society can participate in the expert groups or can organize additional events; and this is what National Platform is up to. Other interested players have practically the same line of action.

- Well, then a strange situation seems to appear: the dialog on modernization is aimed at Belarusan society, but Belarus is not present in this dialog.

- Yes, That is an accurate observation! That is one of the main problems both for the EU and for the work of the expert groups. It is problematic for the EU as the state isn’t ready for an adequate dialog, and independent civil structures cannot step out with a common opinion. As for the experts, they need public demand to develop reforms, and such a demand is not formed either.

- So what we are to do?

- There are two opinions. BISS experts say that we should create special analogous level of relations with the state, not including civil society into the dialog; then the state will work with the EU directly. Of course, on condition the demand to discharge political prisoners is fulfilled. This is an idea of authoritative modernization. I have a different opinion: we should create dialog at the political level, where we should invite National Platform, associations of employers, trade union, etc.; i.e. the public structures. They should form the public demand to develop reforms and their goal is to influence the state and the society. After the visit I have an impression that the second variant appeals more to the EU, too…

- Do you mean that the EU will support civil society in the EDM further?

- As I understood from the talk with the Commissioner Štefan Füle, the enforcement of civil society component remains our priority. The possibility of state involvement is not excluded, too, but we suggest that the state pays more attention to the dialog with its own civil society by itself.

Strictly speaking, the EU doesn’t adhere to one unambiguous position in relation to the European dialog on modernization. Different structures have different level of awareness about the situation, different levels of interest. But on the whole, there are aims to continue this dialog; so let’s see what happens next. 

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