Brussels, 5 April 2022

Senior Officials Meeting on Belarus: Speech by Nikolai Kvantaliani, Member of the EaP CSF Belarusian National Platform Coordination Committee

During the Senior Officials Meeting on Belarus, Nikolai Kvantaliani, representig the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, addressed the situation in Belarus and how the war in Ukraine has affected Belarusian civil  society. 

In his speech, Nikolai Kvantaliani called attention to the situation of political prisoners in Belarus, where currently 1,108 political prisoners are held, including activists, journalists, human rights defenders, as well as ordinary citizens.

People are being put behind bars if they speak out against the torture and repressions that are happening in Belarus, but also if they raise the of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Many Belarusian citizens have left the coutry in order to avoid becoming forced to help the regime wage its war against Ukraine.

The developments in Belarus and Ukraine are interconnected. In 2020, Belarusians were beaten, tortured, killed and raped in prisons and detention centres. In 2022, we have seen images from villages and cities of Ukraine that were previously occupied by Russians, where innocent civilians have been tortured and murdered and women’s bodies partly burned after being raped. The cause of this brutal violence is the same: it is an attack on freedom and values of democratic societies.

Nevertheless, there is great solidarity between Belarusians and Ukrainians. Belarusians were among the first who have reached the Polish-Ukrainian border to support Ukrainian refugees. For many Belarusians who foud shelter in Ukraine, it was a traumatizing experience to become a political refugee for the second time. It is essential that a correct picture of Belarusian refugees escaping both regimes is painted in the public space and further discrimination is prevented.

Supporting Belarusian civil society in order to preserve it and preparing the ground for future democratic development should be strategic, long-term, flexible and designed to ensure ownership of Belarusian stakeholders over the planning and implementation of large scale programmes and projects.

It is particularly important to ensure ongoing support to political prisoners in Belarus, including their familities. Moreover, legal support for re-establishing Belarusian civil society in neighboring countries is needed and it is necessary to recognise Belarusian CSOs registered abroad as Belarusian CSOs. In addition, the accessibility of funds should be a priority and reporting on projects adapted in order to preserve the safety of beneficiaries.

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Speech delivered at Eastern Partnership Senior Official (SOM) meeting on Belarus, by Nikolai Kvantaliani, Member of the EaP CSF Belarusian National Platform Coordination Committee