Join the European Endowment for Democracy and Chatham House in discussing Belarus’ changing reality at a roundtable discussion with Anna Kanapatskaya, member of the opposition at the Belarusian Parliament.
Belarus has been called “the last dictatorship in Europe” for more than 20 years. Russia’s actions in Ukraine since 2014 have put the country in a vulnerable economic and geopolitical position, pushing it to flirt with Europe and the West again. Chronic economic problems have led to demand for reforms from the society. However, the leadership’s fear of a Maidan-like uprising and widespread worries about possible Russian reaction to political changes in Belarus mean there is a broad preference for evolutionary rather than revolutionary change.
Following the release of most political prisoners in February 2016 the EU Council lifted restrictive measures against 170 Belarusian individuals and three companies, while maintaining an arms embargo and the sanctions against four members of the security service suspected of involvement in the disappearance of four political opponents in 1999-2000. International and EU assistance for Belarus has increased and both outsiders and insiders hope to see gradual liberalisation in the country. Civil society, opposition and free media involvement in matters of low politics is tolerated, especially outside the capital. The parliamentary elections of 2016 saw the biggest number of opposition candidates registered since 2004, with two of them winning a seat. However, previous experience suggests that even these small achievements are vulnerable to rollbacks.
Minor legislative amendments are underway but there has been no significant progress on free and fair elections, the rule of law, freedom of assembly and media. Civic activities are subject to tight political control. Registration requests from NGOs, media and political parties are routinely rejected, yet unregistered civic activities continue to be criminalized. The existing laws allow the shutting down of online outlets and independent newspapers on flimsy pretexts but provide insufficient protection against electoral fraud. Public protests are still forbidden; hundreds of activists and journalists were held under arrest for several days after the protests against a tax on the unemployed in March 2017.
WHY TALK ABOUT BELARUS NOW?
Taking a closer look at the changes in Belarus is important for designing a strategic approach towards the country. Are we witnessing a genuine opening or another attempt by Lukashenka to get what he can from the EU in exchange for minimal and easily reversible concessions?
Anna Kanapatskaya is one of the most interesting political voices in Belarus today. She is a member of the opposition United Civic Party and one of the two opposition MPs in the Belarusian Parliament. Her presence in the National Assembly is seen both as an opportunity and a responsibility to make the opposition’s voice heard in public policy processes. At the same time, the opposition needs to prevent their presence in Parliament from being used to legitimise the establishment’s policies. Needless to say, it is not an easy task. Two decades outside the parliament mean the opposition is out of practice when it comes to navigating complex legislative processes. What leverage does the opposition have in Belarus and is it able to use this narrow opening to become a more relevant actor?
Anna Kanapatskaya will speak about her experience during her first year in the Belarusian Parliament. She will share her perspective on the current political situation in Belarus and discuss how the international community can best help the pro-democracy constituency in the country.Event Report