There are several reasons for that, and the current state of the “Eastern Partnership” initiative is the first one.
On the threshold of regular conference of National Platform’s organizations Uladzimir Matskevich, the head of the Board of the International Consortium “EuroBelarus”, discusses the state of things in the National Platform of the “Eastern Partnership” Civil Society Forum in the talk with the EuroBelarus Information Service.
- This year National Platform is, certainly, on the downgrade, even in depression. Someone from more active participants might disagree with me; however, this is my opinion. I could have probably claimed that when I was among the members of the Coordinating Board and actively participated in its work, things were different; however, now National Platform is on the decline, - Uladzimir Matskevich said. – But I can’t say that, as I monitor the work of my colleagues and friends in the Coordinating Board, I watch how National Platform is developing in Belarus and other countries of the “Eastern Partnership”, and that is why I understand that the situation isn’t defined by people’s activity and skills; whoever would be heading the National Platform now would be caught in similar situation.
- The first reason of decline is the state of affairs in the “Eastern Partnership” and the decline of the initiative in general, which started as far back as last year. After Viktor Yanukovich’s administration refused to sign EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and after the events that followed, the very appropriateness of the initiative was brought into question. Goals and values of the initiative remain; however, to make the initiative effective, they are to reviewed, which is complicated and postponed due to the EU elections, newly elected European Commission (EC) and so on. Thus, for some time we’ll have to remain in the dark.
Second block of reasons is connected with the condition of the civil society per se in all the countries of the initiative, including Belarus.
National Platform was designed in order to activate Belarusan civil society. Any society is in the opposition to the state on the one hand, and has strong mutual relations with the state, basically managing the country, on the other. And by attempting to be autonomous, the state is constantly trying to take civil society under control and get rid of its pressure. Back in 80s-90s there was a long period in European history, when the state encouraged the development of the civil society, and civil society was active and efficiently cooperated with the state. However, later European states and supranational EU formations have learnt how to control civil society. They have permitted activity in the form of NGOs, which are now for the most part funded by the state itself. That is why at the pan- and European levels civil society agenda is dictated and is set by the state. The states often ask NGOs to support or legitimize the initiatives of the countries. Basically all Forums, all large international events with the participation of the civil society are initiated by national or supranational structures. This trend has tremendously developed over the last time, though the processes were launched back in the 90s. Basically, today NGOs are serving to the interests of the state; they lost possibility to define politics of their countries and European politics.
For some time, when the “Eastern Partnership” initiative was just started, Civil Society Forum and National Platform still had some impact on the EC’s policy. However, today EC mission to Belarus and European Commission itself are trying to stand aside from the independent, active, uncontrolled civil society, replacing it with loyal, controlled dependent NGOs. And nobody wants Belarusan National Platform, which was excessively independent both from the perspective of the Belarusan state and EC. That is why National Platform is ignored at the international Forums, and an attempt to integrate in the project “European Dialog on Modernization” was unwelcomed by the European Commission either, and naturally, by the Belarusan state. EC and Belarusan state in a common effort basically excluded civil society and National Platform from participation in the European Dialog on Modernization to fill functional places in the dialog with convenient and controlled organizations. And we have to examine and analyze these complications in relations between the civil society and the state.
- Is it possible to restore the right of the civil society to define international, not only domestic state policy?
- It is possible in theory; but in order to do that, we need to reconsider the notion of the civil society, its role and place in politics and in the international relations, within the country, etc. and to do that, we need to get rid of a number of clichés, commonplaces, formulas taught at school ad in universities, at different education seminars f the third sector, which politicians use in their work.
We can start from simple things, such as a stereotyped view of media as a fourth estate. But when it comes to the object and subject of media, I see lots of mistakes, prejudices and incomprehension. Some journalists are convinced that they use power as subjects, which is wrong. Both the ethics and the professionalism of journalists presuppose that journalists occupy passive civil stand; they are to be objective, work with facts, interpret these facts or analyze them, but not for their own purposes. Thus, when we say that media is a fourth estate, we should separate infrastructure represented by mass media, and powers, who use media in their own goals.
I won’t reinvent the wheel if I say that the fourth estate is an instrument of the civil society. It is through mass media that society influences the first, second, and third estates. But in our situation, for now there is no such influence.
- How can civil society become the subject of the fourth estate to influence the three remaining ones?
- Through voting. I.e. civil society should talk through mass media, and inform the public, including authorities, about its ideas. But to make ideas heard and make them clear, those who are talking should have authority, reputation, influence and so on. But there are no voices that would be independent from the state in the Belarusan state media.
In order to make the society an active party to the “fourth estate” and use media to influence public, political, economic and culture processes, we should reconsider the very idea of civil society. It is not a bunch of NGOs; it consists of authoritative, influential people with their personal opinion about the situation in the country. These are businessmen, writers, scientists, sportsmen, etc.; they all make civil society if they don’t speak on behalf of the state. And this is the thing that we lack.
State media excluded civil society from its discourse; there is no talking about the fourth estate; we can only talk about the instrument of the first estate. However, in the independent media the situation is reverse – they use every effort to avoid the creation of influential people and structures, they only impede their emergence. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t have influential politicians, influential parties, business and so on, not to say anything about influential figures – key influence people, whose views serve as benchmarks for people.
In the short run “EuroBelarus” website will post further discussion of problems of the National Platform and civil society in general.
P.S. Applications for participation in the Conference of the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society, which will take place on June21 in Minsk, can be still submitted. The subject of the conference is: “Belarus in conditions of regional crisis and stagnation of the Eastern Partnership”.
The conference can be attended both by the participants of the National Platform who signed the Memorandum on Cooperation, as well as other organizations (without the right for participation). For participation in the conference application should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is June 16, 2014.
You can find out more about the conference and applications here.