Minsk is only a little more than 1000 km away from Berlin, and yet for many, Belarus is still an unknown country. Little knowledge, lack of personal contacts and some negative headlines have often led to stereotypes about the country and its people in recent years. Belarus has yet a long and rich history in the middle of Europe, at the crossroads of cultures and religions.
Belarusian territory was for centuries part of other states or empires such as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (13th-18th centuries), the Kingdom of Poland, the Rzeczpospolita (16th -18th centuries), the Russian Empire (18th-20th centuries) and the Soviet Union (20th century). The Belarusian national thought, as well as Belarusian literature and historiography emerged only towards the end of the 19th century. In March 1918, after the end of the First World War, the declaration of the short-lived Belarusian People's Republic (bel.: BNR) took place. It was not until the dissolution of the Soviet Union that the Belarusian population once again had the opportunity to form its own nation-state.
The Declaration of Independence in 1991 led to international political contacts, including with Germany or the European Union. Relations with the western states initially developed positively. These contacts were to a great extent based on the numerous civil society Chernobyl initiatives that had emerged in many European countries since the late 1980s in support of those affected in the contaminated areas of Belarus. However, with the controversial constitutional referendum, through which President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, elected in 1994, abolished the separation of powers in Belarus in 1996 to a large extent, official contacts from EU's side were significantly frozen.
In response to this contact ban, the International Conference "Minsk Forum" was established 1997. Since then, the format has become the central dialogue event in the German-Belarusian relationships. The conference served to maintain political, economic and civil society contacts between Belarus on one side and Germany and the EU on the other, even in difficult political times. In addition, it helped to ensure that the various actors in Belarus – non-governmental organisations, the government and the opposition – were able to talk at eye level. Two years later, in the summer of 1999, the German-Belarusian Society (dbg) was founded with the aim of expanding the range of projects and activities with Belarus. Further on, the Minsk Forum was organised by the dbg and became its central event.
Since then, the dinamic of German-Belarusian relations has changed several times, going through its ups and downs. It has always been a concern of the dbg to implement projects with Belarus, thereby contributing to international understanding and reconciliation.
Photo: dbg / Arkadi Bulva, 2016, shutterstock.com