What civil society in Belarus needs

Column - 2022-04-11
ForumCiv has been involved in support to Belarusian civil society for almost 30 years. During these years we have seen a cycle repeating itself: opening of civic space, followed by repressions, followed by sanctions but then eventual reproachment with the regime.
Ognjen looks into the camera. He is wearing a blue sweater. Behind him is a Belarusian flag.
Ognjen Radonjic, Regional Manager for ForumCiv Eastern Europe

We work on the issues of development of civil society, promotion of human rights and values of democracy. Yet, 30 years ago when we started supporting civil society in Belarus, we supported birds watchers. Our logic was that it is important to start developing civil society from the ground up, having people meet around common issues and eventually they will start talking about democracy and human rights. 

In 2020 we have seen the effects of the long-term support to civil society. With the pandemic civil society organised to support medical workers and with the revolution, civil society was at the forefront of the protests as well as of support to the arrestees. By the way, even that bird watching organisation has been liquidated by the regime.

The support to the Belarusian civil society should be long-term, for the next decade, because it is important that the support transcends election cycles and budgetary timeframes. 

However, civil society doesn’t only require financial support, money is important but is not everything. Civil society needs political support even more. For years, Belarusian civil society was very good at using international conventions to affect policy change in the country. Now, when civic space is shrunk to narrow margins, it is even more important to include Belarusian civil society in international forums, to allow alternative voices from Belarus to be heard. 

In the past 30 years, the Belarusian civil society have have come a long way. Yet, in current circumstances, one should be wise to reflect on those beginning. In current circumstances, the thematic focus is less important. Any kind of activity, organised by independent civil society, any activity that maintains the civic spirit, maintains that amazing solidarity shown by Belarusians should be supported. However, we need to be mindful that values of open society, values of gender equality, environmental justice and human rights are incorporated. 

ForumCiv aims to sustain civil society, to consolidate civil society, and to build bridges between civil society in the country and those forced into exile. For the past two years, we have been facing unprecedented operational issues, for example how to transfer funds into the country or how to verify activities or reports. Even so, we have been able to achieve our goals: to maintain transparency of funds, security of activities, to assure the security of funds as well as to support those in most need, civil society in the country. Flexible programming and flexible support helped us in achieving those goals, and we hope this flexibility will be present in the future. 

Beyond support, it is important not to equalise the regime and the people of Belarus. This regime does not represent the people. It is important not to exclude the people of Belarus.

Ognjen Radonjic
Regional Manager for ForumCiv Eastern Europe

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