In my turn, I cannot help but note positively the work of Yaroslav Bekish as the Country Facilitator who has been doing it, in fact, for over the past year and a half, and also the work of Mikalai Kvantaliani as Coordinator of the EaP CSF Working Group 4.
To date, Belarusan civil society is represented in the Steering Committee of the EaP CSF by two people: Mikolai Kvantaliani who has retained the position of Coordinator of the Working Group 4, and me as the Country Facilitator.
1. What do I see as the immediate priorities for the development of the EaP CSF?
Both the Civil Society Forum, and the Belarusan National Platform have lately lost their strategic dynamics. I won’t dwell on facts that confirm it and analyze the reasons for this state of affairs; I will only note the deplorable state of the organization of the last EaP CSF in Chisinau and the overall level of its resulting documents. You should know well yourself all about the National Platform. I believe that there’s need to return the lost dynamics.
For the Civil Society Forum which should perform the strategic role at the level of the Eastern Partnership, these sources lie in two planes:
The Plane 1: The increased presence of the EaP CSF in the formulation and evaluation of policies at the level of the Eastern Partnership and the European Neighbourhood Policy, as well as at the national level of the Eastern Partnership countries. This implies:
maintaining regular dialogue on the development of the Eastern Partnership and the European Neighbourhood Policy instruments with the European Commission, the European External Action Service, the European Parliament;
maintaining and developing relations with the structures of the Eastern Partnership: Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), etc.;
maintaining and developing relationships with interested stakeholders in the European Union and the countries of the Eastern Partnership. Among these should be mentioned:
structures of civil society: the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), major European networks and associations of NGOs (European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development (CONCORD), the Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN), the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA), and others);
government agencies and foreign ministries of the EU countries that deal with the development aid: the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and similar structures;
specially designed structures and tools for the civil society development in the countries of the Eastern Partnership: the Civil Society Facility, European Endowment for Democracy, and others;
inclusion in the already existing processes of the structured dialogue and consultations with civil society at the global and the EU level on the development and democracy issues (Structured Dialog, The High Level Fora on Aid Effectiveness, etc.);
formulation of leading ideas for the strategic development of the Eastern Partnership by the Civil Society Forum. Here, the task to introduce the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) and the road maps in the Eastern Partnership framework is still relevant.
The plane 2. Strengthening ties of the Civil Society Forum with the National Platforms of the Eastern Partnership, as well as strengthening the very National Platforms. This implies:
increasing cooperation and establishment of permanent communication between the EaP CSF and National Platforms. The legitimacy of the Forum can be supported and maintained only by the legitimacy and weight of the National Platforms. Unfortunately, both the weight of the National Platforms, and the nature of their ties with the Forum leaves much to be desired;
strengthening horizontal ties between the National Platforms, including shaping a common agenda for the National Platforms of the Eastern Partnership. Here too it is difficult to offer something more meaningful than the Open Method of Coordination;
increasing participation of the National Platforms of the Eastern Partnership countries in the trilateral dialogue “EU — national governments — civil society” at the level of the partner countries.
2. What do I see as the next priority for civil society in Belarus?
In the current situation, there is no a place where consolidated efforts of the Belarusan civil society could lead to democratic change. I am more than skeptical about the situation of the election of 2015, calls to go out at the Ploshcha and attempts to rewrite the “Strategy 2012”. The current situation is different! This is, if you want, a new stagnation, the long-term slow changes’ time. This situation has arisen primarily because the civil society has missed the opportunities for self-organization in the period 2010-2012 in order to be able to do something today and in the near future. Today is not the time for swift movements and actions, today is the time for what is called “praca organiczna” (organic work). Opportune today are the tasks of internal development and strengthening of the civil society:
organizational development and strengthening of civil society structures;
working with errors, reflection and meaningful dialogue on the future development: creating programs, plans, and concepts;
long-term education, training and retraining of personnel.
For the Belarusan National Platform of Civil Society the above-mentioned tasks are transformed into the following ones:
organizational development: strengthening the regional process, expansion of the circle of involved organizations and individuals;
bridging the gap between active member organizations and organizations, slightly involved in the process (through education, information, communication, all kinds of assistance to organizations in development);
consensus building: a dialogue on strategic issues, broader inclusion in the EU initiative European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarusan society (EDoM);
meaningful work: development of the monitoring and research (inside the logic of the road maps and the Open Method of Coordination) and, again, greater inclusion in the EDoM;
information and education (in particular, launching a media program).
Thus, we have to approach a next situation of the open opportunities for change more prepared; otherwise, as it has already happened more than once, we will lose again the opportunity.
3. How can the Country Facilitator cope with it all?
Alone, one can not cope with it. And I'm counting very much on the support of my friends and colleagues from the International Consortium “EuroBelarus”, the Coordinating Committee of the National Platform, on advice and active participation of former and current members of the EaP CSF Steering Committee, meaningful and active work of permanent members of the National Platform and all those in the civil society of Belarus who share similar goals and aims.
The Country Facilitator for Belarus
of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum