Yaroslav Bekish is national facilitator of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum from Belarus.
"Some months ago Belarusian authorities intensified unofficial communication with the EU tempting it to resume relations and cooperation.
Surprisingly they put conditions for being engaged in dialogue with the EU: the civil society and the political opposition must be excluded from Belarus-EU relations. So-called pragmatists in Belarus have started to lobby in favour of this proposal and there are political actors in the EU who welcome it.
But let's think twice before accepting this proposal to leave civil society aside.
For many years Belarus has stood at a crossroad between West and East? Belarusian authorities proclaim a multivector approach in foreign policy, however these two directions are hard to combine.
The EU wants Belarus to implement democratic changes, to improve its legislation, to strengthen democratic practices, to reduce public control over economy and to respect human rights. This is the EU requirement to receive its support in modernisation.
The Eastern path, in contrast, looks very simple to follow, but tricky. Russia does not demand much in exchange forf its credits, but, at the same time, it is not able to provide any modernisation support for Belarus, neither political, nor economic, or technological one.
Russia is interested in Belarus as a trade area, geopolitical buffer zone or new Eurasian empire satellite.
Despite of common sense and official rhetoric, Belarusian foreign policy follows not a multivector approach, but definitely a univector path. For the moment, it is the East direction. There are simply some deviations from this vector, small variations, as from time to time authorities partly turn to the West.
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the European Dialogue on Modernisation (DoM) are the only official directions of the Belarus’ relationship with the EU.
There are, of course, different shirtsleeve negotiations, trade agreements, and sectorial dialogue but there are no political programmes. If Belarus loses this opportunity, it actually loses its high-level political interaction with the EU. There will be relationships with the member states, but there will not be any with the EU, as the EU is a supranational political formation in nature.
Today Belarus does not demonstrate much will to participate within the EaP at top level of ministers and the heads of states. It also does not participate in the parliamentary dimension, at the Euronest level.
It is only at the third level, the level of civil society, where there is sustainable relationship. Actually, civil society is the only actor legally and legitimately involved in the EaP; its institution Civil Society Forum is the only line of communication between Belarus and the EU.
While falling out of the EaP, Belarus is losing the chance to reduce its dependence on the Eastern partner, to modernise the administrative, technical and political sphere.
This is what gives us the initiative of the EaP and the DoM, this is what we reject as an independent country. The main task for the Civil Society Forum in this case is to encourage Belarus going back into the context of official relationship with the EU as a whole country - at levels of the civil society, the Parliament, and at the top level.
Certainly, this is not a task for one event or one year, this is a set of interrelated problems to be solved.
The EaP Civil Society Forum National Platform (civil society organisations in EaP countries involved in EaP) in this sense could be seen as a temporary substitute for representation of the citizens of Belarus. This is both the National Platform of the EaP Civil Society Forum, and, in a sense (in a very limited sense, but), the substitute of the Belarusian Parliament.
It could be involved at least in the regular communication with the Euronest. Effectively the EU has no one in Belarus but the National Platform to officially talk with.
The National Platform is the voice the Belarusian society, which firstly - has its own opinion, secondly - this opinion is legitimate, thirdly - the National Platform is ready to voice it.
The European Commission more than other EU institution takes into consideration the role and importance of the National Platform. Yet the overall level of civil society involvement in the EU decision-making on Belarus is still very limited.
The European Parliament could intensify its relations with the National Platform via Euronest and the National Platform could get its specific place within the DoM.
Civil society game is not finished yet. It seems too early for the EU to abandon it and to play again by the Belarusian authorities’ rules."