2010 19/11
Алесь Бяляцкі, Менск

Ales Bialacki, Miensk

Lately, Belarusian civil society has been trying to combine efforts to consolidate the society, to democratize people’s lives and to improve the situation with human rights.

On November 14 National conference based on the results of civil society index researches. On November 15 European Commissioner Stefan Fuhle met representatives of democratic organizations and called civil society for a closer cooperation. (further – orthography of primary source)

However, the chairman of human right center “Viasna” Ales Bialiatsky thinks that relations between civil society and Belarusian authorities are complicated and need reasonable and rational approach.

You can read his opinion in details in the interview to internet newspaper Naviny.by

— On November 18-19 in Berlin the second forum of “Eastern Partnership” countries’ non-governmental organizations takes place. What are you as a human right activist more interested in at this forum and what hopes do you put on its work?

— Last year the first session of “Eastern Partnership” countries’ non-governmental organizations took place. More that 20 non-governmental organizations represented Belarus which made a national platform of non-governmental organization in “Eastern Partnership”. In general this platform is opened fro cooperation and negotiations between non-governmental organizations. Approximately 100 Belarusian organizations participate there more or less actively. The platform is rather representational because it presents human right, social, educational, youth and other organizations which work in different branches of public activity.

But relations and contacts or civil society and authorities are kept to minimum or are absent at all. Belarusian authorities would have liked to represent Belarus in “Eastern Partnership” program by themselves without any public organizations, because these organizations were not under their command and conduct independent policy. The spectacular example of embittered relations is that Tatsiana Shaputska who had been invited last year to the forum later was expelled from the University for taking part in the forum. But national platforms in “Eastern Partnership” participant countries are meant to be favorable for relations between non-governmental organizations and authorities! In the recent 15 years in Belarus a disastrous situation has developed: hundreds of organizations don’t have state registration and the others work in very hard conditions. Government treats civil society as its ideological enemy. So we can talk about cooperation only in some very limited conditions.

But we can’t say that there is no cooperation at all. Some organizations, in the first turn public associations of small-scale entrepreneurs or other organizations of economic and public orientation work actively with Ministry of Economic Affairs and other departments which deal with economic development of the country. Of course it’s nothing to do with socio-political sector, about respect and deference to civil and political rights in the country, about work of human right organizations. We and authorities have polar concepts about the further development of the country.

We stand for establishment and keeping international standards in the field of human rights, for European values in civil and political life of our people, but authorities have their own post-soviet ideas of human rights and their place in Belarusian people’s life. Today the situation with human right organizations and relations with authorities are steady bad. The great part of human right organizations in Belarus doesn’t have state registration. On November 15 human right organization “Brest Viasna” got the sixth refusal of registration in the Supreme Court. Therefore article 193.1 covers work of the greatest part of human right activists in Belarus. This is the today’s reality.

The situation with non-governmental organizations is very complicated today. We entered pre-election period and we get some signals as if from the authorities but not outright – from some intermediates, as if authorities have intentions to normalize relations with the third sector, to intensify and activate these relations. Lately, these signals bring out contradictory thoughts among representatives of non-governmental organizations.

For example, on November 14 National conference based on the results of civil society index researches took place. This conference was held by “SKAF” centre (director – Yury Zahumionnau) with the help of OSCE office. The work itself is very interesting, but suddenly the goals of the conference were reformed and unexpectedly the talk was about creating national platforms which could be a ground for negotiations with Belarusian authorities on the topics interesting for non-governmental organizations. This suggestion was really in the air. Such contacts are really necessary for normal relations of non-governmental organizations and authorities, that’s why a great number of organizations were responsive to this suggestion hoping that there really are some arrangements with authorities. But on closer examination it became clear that unfortunately there are no arrangements of the kind and moreover there have never been any signals from the government about such negotiations with the third sector.

But nevertheless Belarusian human right activists work many years together without any platforms. In fact we have such platform because we meet each other regularly, exchange our thoughts; we organized our own Human Right Forum on September 25, 2010 in Vilnia. 18 human rights structures took part in the event. We worked out the first variant of human right movement development strategy, which we are going to develop more in the closest moths to know how to operate more effectively in the modern conditions. We have common human right projects such as “Belarusian Human Rights House”, help to victims of political repressions; we also organize common campaigns such as “Human Right Defenders for Free Elections”, “Human Right Defenders Against Death Penalty”, “Stop 193.1” and some more. We have constructive cooperation in action not in words, and that’s important.

Back on the conference, I shall note that Yury Zahumionnau announced that human rights platform has been created. Maybe he was talking about some virtual platform because I don’t know any human rights organization which became the member of the platform. Most of the human right organizations spoke against such unconsidered and rash approach to a necessary unity with an obvious political background. We explained Zahumionnau all riskiness of such rash approach but instead heard the stubborn: “Saw the kettle ball, Shura, it’s made of gold!”

Human rights centre “Viasna” together with the other organization accepted a common application where we once again have claimed about our intentions to negotiate with Belarusian authorities but on equal and respectful terms. There are many examples of productive cooperation of non-governmental organizations and government: Lithuania, Poland, Moldova and even Ukraine. Our government can learn form them.

— On November 14 European Commissioner Stefan Fuhle during his visit to Minsk met representatives of civil society. After considering the results of the meeting contradictory comments appeared in electronic mass media. And what do human right activists think about the results of the meeting?

— At this meeting the representatives of different non-governmental organizations evaluated relations with Belarusian government. By all appearances a new situation is possible to happen, we’ll see what will happen after elections. It easily can happen that some part of non-governmental organizations will work with Belarusian authorities in some local direction of their work.

Nevertheless we state that unfortunately, in general the situation with right to freedom of association won’t change a bit. Problems with registration of non-governmental organizations still exist, article 193.1 of Criminal Code still exist, problems with offices rent, with financing and access of NGO to their target audience still exist. It’s obvious that, first, Belarusian government must clear the negative situation which now exists between NGO and authorities. The government must stop looking at non-governmental organizations as at enemies and rivalry that only put a stroke in government’s wheels. From our side we are ready to help. The third sector is really ready to constructive relations with the state on the base of mutual honor.

— It appears that we can be optimistic?

— I have suspicions that dirty tricks of Belarusian authorities can result a division of the third sector into dependent from government organizations which would be limited in their actions and opinions. I appeal to organizations not to be too trustful and deceivable in relations with this government. They have worked too much harm. The state mustn’t conduct carrot-and-stick policy towards civil society: one gets carrot and the other gets stick. It can treat non-governmental organizations as its real partner. But, in my opinion, Belarusian authorities are not ready yet for such policy. It seems like they are not ready for anything yet.

Let’s hope that this state’s turn towards non-governmental organizations will happen and that’s why it’s very important now to hold to correspondent international standards in relations between society and government and fight for these standards really to work in Belarus. We’ll hope that the forced turn of Belarusian authorities to Europe will result greater democratization in Belarus.

Quoting naviny.by

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