Last week, NDI-Eurasia Deputy Director Katherine Fox, alongside IRI-Eurasia Director Stephen Nix and the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Minsk, Sanaka Samarasinha, briefed the Helsinki Commission on political developments in Belarus. The panel was entitled “Engaging Belarus on Human Rights and Democracy.”
The three panelists pointed to similar themes: Russia’s looming presence, the steep barriers that democratic parties and civil society groups face in seeking to organize independently, and the importance of continued international engagement.
In her remarks, NDI-Eurasia Deputy Director Katie Fox noted that, despite the immense challenges, there are new opportunities to contribute to the foundations of a more democratic system with foreign assistance as well as diplomacy. She cited growing evidence that the government is open to influence from citizens in some limited areas; independent political parties are communicating more effectively with voters; and the electorate for democratic change in may be expanding. She argued that these developments merit attention and support from the international community.
Fox proposed that diplomatic dialogue should prioritize outreach to genuinely independent civil society groups and political parties, focus on systematic rather than ad hoc reforms as a condition for deeper engagement, and emphasize changes to the electoral system as recommended by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as well as independent Belarusian monitoring groups such as the Right to Choose coalition.
She submitted that international assistance should help political parties and civil society groups take advantage of current opportunities to grow while supporting efforts to mitigate the impact of information warfare.
Fox quoted NDI Chairman Madeleine Albright, who has said, “democracy can produce the kind of stability that lasts, a stability built on the firm ground of mutual commitments and consent. This differs from the illusion of order that can be maintained only as long as dissent is silenced; the kind of order that may last for decades and yet still disappear overnight.”
In the case of Belarus, said Fox, the international community cannot afford the ‘illusion of order’ in a country in the middle of Europe, between Russia and the EU. If the international democratic community disengages, there is little doubt that the void will be filled by illiberal and authoritarian forces.
See below to watch the entire briefing: