Minsk Forum XXI Berlin: “Raising the Belarusian Voice in Europe”

Minsk Forum XXI

Problems with and in Belarus in the fields of politics and economics were discussed in two panel discussions. In a third panel, the results of a two-and-a-half-day retreat for members of the Belarusian diaspora were presented.

After two working sessions in Vilnius and Warsaw, as well as meeting with European parliamentarians in Brussels, representatives of the Belarusian civil society gathered in Berlin for the final event of this year’s cycle. The main conference of the Minsk Forum was named “Raising the Belarusian Voice in Europe”.

Streams of the conference in Belarusian, German, as well as in the original are available on the YouTube channel of dbg e.V.

The Berlin conference began with welcoming words by Lars Hänsel (Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Head of Department Europe / North America) and Rainer Lindner (German-Belarusian Society, member of the Advisory Board, founder of the Minsk Forum).

Despite the forced “emigration” of the Minsk Forum due to the policies of A. Lukashenka’s regime, Dr. Lars Hänsel noted: “We are not going to rename the Forum to Vilnius-Warsaw-Brussels Forum, or something like that. We strive for this format to return to Belarus.” He expressed hope that the Minsk Forum will be able to be a place for free exchange of ideas and planning of prospects for Minsk and Belarus, including within the country. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation has been a partner of the Minsk Forum since 2007 – it can be named as the first German political foundation to actively cooperate with Belarus. “Sovereign, free Belarus, living in prosperity, is a valuable partner for the European Union and an important fragment of the future order of peace in Europe.”

Professor Dr. Rainer Lindner began his opening speech with the greeting “Long live Belarus”. In his speech, he also recalled the history of the Minsk Forum: how in 1997, on the basis of IBB in Minsk, a platform was established, which provided an opportunity for the expert community, political opposition and representatives of the authorities to regularly exchange ideas with colleagues from Berlin, Brussels, and other EU countries.

“My thoughts today are with the hundreds and thousands of political prisoners whom the regime keeps in its prisons and whose release we are trying and will try to facilitate. <…> The dark era for Belarus must end: this country deserves a future in Europe just like Ukraine, Moldova and all other post-Soviet states that want to finally leave the imperial heritage behind.” Despite the possible discussions and disagreements within the democratic forces, the main thing is that they should be in solidarity with each other so that they can influence the future of the country. “Approaching those people who yet need to be convinced is a very important task.”

The opportunity for Belarus to join the EU will open immediately after the regime of A. Lukashenka changes. The requirements for the regime are currently as follows:

  1. release of all political prisoners;
  2. refusal of all provocations on the border with the EU: with the Baltic countries and Poland.

According to R. Lindner, Belarus will be able to confirm its commitment to democracy in the best way possible in cooperation with EU countries.

During the next part of the conference, Robin Wagener (MFA of Germany, Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with the Southern Caucasus, the Republic of Moldova and Central Asia) made a brief overview of the last three years from the point of view of the Belarusian context and emphasized that while V. Putin and A. Lukashenko are in power in their countries, there will be no peace in Europe. He also mentioned certain European initiatives that are currently working with Belarus:

It is not enough to demand that political prisoners are released. It is also necessary to ensure decent living conditions and support for prisoners after their release. For example, they must be entitled to a humanitarian residence permit according to par. 22 in Germany to be able to work outside the country, where they are not allowed to do so.

Pavel Latushka (Deputy Head of the United Transitional Cabinet, Head of National Anti-Crisis Management) in his speech reflected on the future of democratic Belarus and the (in)activity of its partners. In his opinion, it is necessary to create a joint working group of Belarus and Germany, which would outline specific steps for future actions. Otherwise, the resolution of November 7th will remain as good intentions only. 

Possible instruments under this strategy are:

  1. International criminal responsibility: it is necessary to issue an arrest warrant for A. Lukashenka for committing a war crime, illegal movement of Ukrainian children from temporarily occupied territories – as was already done in relation to V. Putin.
  2. The non-recognition of the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 2024 now. 
  3. Sanctions. Despite the debate surrounding their effectiveness, there is no need to abandon this instrument. Nevertheless, it is impossible to apply certain type of sanctions to Russia and another one to Belarus, because it is the “Union State”, a common economic space and a customs union.
    • The best solution would be to completely close the possibility of moving goods across the border with the Republic of Belarus, certainly with the exception of essential goods and medicines.
    • Sanctions on the use of the dollar in settlements with the Republic of Belarus, on the import of banknotes into the country.
    • It is necessary to find and arrest the foreign assets of A. Lukashenka’s family and wallets.
    • Sanctions against the “Union State”.
  4. Project of the national Belarusian university abroad.
  5. It is necessary to develop and use counter-propaganda; true information must get inside Belarus.
  6. Political prisoners are an absolute priority issue for democratic forces now.

Toni Michel (Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Desk Officer for Western and Southern Europe) moderated the panel in the absence of Jakob Wöllenstein (Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Head of the International Office Belarus), who could not fly to Berlin from Vilnius due to weather conditions. 

Dr. Ryhor Astapenia (Founder and Distinguished Fellow of Center for New Ideas; Academy Associate and Belarus Initiative, Chatham House) spoke about the state of affairs in Belarus after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He also mentioned the Chatham House research, the results of which show that the majority of Belarusians do not support Russian military aggression, as well as the policies of A. Lukashenka’s regime.

Katia Glod (Policy Fellow, European Leadership Network) shared her opinion that the Belarusian opposition [after 2020] has gained legitimacy in the eyes of both the international community and society within Belarus. At the same time, it is important to understand that democratic forces are only at the beginning of building structures and institutionalization, so it is necessary to facilitate this by providing them with platforms and opportunities for interaction. According to the expert, the opposition should work more actively in the practical direction of future European integration of Belarus and reforms in various spheres (science, education, health care, economy). It is very important to win the minds of the Belarusian people – so that they continue to support the opposition.

Anatoli Liabedzka (United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, Advisor for the Constitutional Reform and Interparliamentary Cooperation): Belarus should be present on the international agenda, but at the same time, “more Europe” should be in the hearts and minds of Belarusians. There is an Alliance of parliamentary groups “For a democratic Belarus”, which includes representatives of the parliaments of 23 countries, from Canada and the USA to Georgia and Moldova.

The speaker is convinced that through the parliamentary dimension Belarusians can promote their own agenda. “We adopt good documents, but there is no correlation between what is adopted and what works in practice,” says Mr. Liabedzka. It is necessary to develop a step-by-step strategy for the implementation of the resolution. In response to the previous speakers Mr. Liabedzka noted that most Belarusians do not support the regime, but they also have questions: What kind of Belarus do you propose to live in? What can you offer? It is very important to answer these questions, to show Belarusians an alternative.

Žygimantas Pavilionis (Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania, Vice President, Country Manager for Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) joined the conference online. He noted that Lithuanian politicians always look to Berlin and have certain expectations from their German colleagues. In his speech, he paid attention to the historical connection between Lithuania, Germany and Belarus. In 2024, according to Mr. Pavilionis, the long-term future of Europe will be decided.

The lesson that Germany has learned over the last year is that it is necessary to listen to its eastern neighbors. This is the opinion of Robin Wagener (Federal Foreign Office, Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with the Southern Caucasus, the Republic of Moldova and Central Asia). Support for Belarus is also support for the fight in Ukraine. The fight for democracy must be implemented with concrete steps. Supporting Belarus is not a sprint, but a marathon; it is also worth considering the situation in Belarus in the context of EU expansion. Supporting Belarus is a strategic interest for Europe, which is interested in having a stable democratic country next to it.

During the discussion, question and answer session, the participants of the panel talked about the role of the parliamentary elections planned in Belarus for 2024 and the participation of the civil society in them, changes in the legislation that took place in the last year. Comments were made from the audience about the disunity and opposition of the Belarusian democratic forces today, which hinders their joint work for the benefit of democratic transformations in Belarus. It was discussed how much A. Lukashenka really feels confident in his position in 2023, as well as the possibility of dialogue with the regime and options for its split from within.

Stefan Kägebein (Ost-Ausschuss der Deutschen Wirtschaft, Regional Director Eastern Europe) moderated the second panel of this year’s Minsk Forum in Berlin. Firstly, the panelists talked about domestic economic events in Belarus, then discussed the international context and foreign economic relations of today’s Belarus, and afterwards they answered questions from the audience.

At the beginning of the panel, Robert Kirchner (German Economic Team, Deputy Head) spoke about the current macroeconomic situation in Belarus. The main points of his speech were:

  • The Belarusian authorities have limited access to certain economic data – this makes the work of economists more difficult, but at the same time more important.
  • As we can see, in 2022 the Belarusian economy was under a strong negative influence of sanctions. The loss of Ukraine as one of the trading partners became a noticeable problem for Belarus – a decrease in GDP by almost 5% was observed, which indicates the worst recession since the 1990s. But in 2023, economic growth will resume. Belarus again receives cheap oil from Russia, which it then re-exports in the form of oil products through gray schemes to other countries. Salaries of the population are growing, inflation is at a low level thanks to the adopted administrative measures, and trade is recovering.
  • A tendency for stagnation is predicted for next year. Old methods of production are once again the main source of economic growth – Belarus is once again ceasing to be a modern economy.

Dr. Lev Lvovsky (BEROC, Academic Director) spoke about the directions of the internal economic policy of the Belarusian state:

  • Increasing state control in all possible areas of the economy; an unprecedented system of price control;
  • Raising and creating new taxes;
  • Control of the labor market – new laws on forced labor after university, for example.

The expert also commented on the foreign economic policy of the regime: many attempts to get more money and resources from Russia, as well as obvious attempts to find other partners.

Uladzimir Rak (The International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS), Head of Energy SecurityDepartment) noted that the construction of the nuclear power plant is fundamentally changing the energy system of Belarus, because:

  • In terms of its capacity, this is a very large station for Belarus, which leads to overproduction of energy and stopping the development of renewable energy in the country.
  • Through construction quotas, there is no legal opportunity to build new sources of renewable energy, and no financing.
  • The process of improving energy efficiency has stopped (almost 7 years already).
  • The work of a number of NGOs that worked with energy has been suspended.

During the panel, it was emphasized that the energy sector is a key sector for economic independence.

Good news was shared by Sierz Naurodski (ABBA, Vice President, Country Manager for Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia):

  • Belarusian business abroad exists in a volume and quality that can be called a separate sector or institution, it has established itself in the EU;
  • Belarusian business affects the EU economy: Belarusians not only take away jobs, but also create them. Now there are 8,100 companies with Belarusian roots in the EU, which is at least 17,000 jobs.

Speaking of Germany, there are now up to 100 Belarusian companies in this country, which is less than 1% of the entire EU. Only half of these companies openly talk about their business relations with Belarus.

Sierz Naurodski also talked about the Association of Belarusian Business Abroad (ABBA): on the one hand, the Association holds networking meetings and forums, on the other hand, it helps entrepreneurs solve financial problems and find investors. One of ABBA’s successes: negotiations with the European Commission, which will open a special investment fund for Belarusian business in the EU next year, will soon be finished. In his opinion, it is necessary to increase the number of Belarusian investment events – days of investors and days of knowledge about the Belarusian sector of the economy.

During the question and answer session, the participants of the conference discussed the economic integration of Belarus and Russia and how Belarus helps the Russian war machine, how the structure of trade between Belarus and Germany changed during the war.

Russian support smooths the negative impact of sanctions on the financial situation of A. Lukashenka’s regime; it is necessary to look for methods in order to increase the effectiveness of already introduced sanctions, and not only to introduce new ones. As noted by experts, the circumvention of sanctions is rather specific cases of dishonest behavior, and not a centralized strategy. Sanctions circumvention is difficult to detect, and proving it is a separate long, slow, but necessary process.

Today it is difficult to talk about the future collapse of the economy of Belarus; rather, the country is destined for stagnation.

Presentation of the results of the discussions during the Minsk Forum Klausur by representatives of Belarusian Civil Society in Berlin, December 1—3.

Aleś Čajčyc (German-Belarusian Society, Board Member) made the opening speech at this panel. He also moderated the discussion.

In his introductory speech Mr. Čajčyc talked about how the Klausur went:

  • About 30 people participated in the meeting, all of whom currently live abroad. But this was not a meeting of the “diaspora” in the usual sense of the word: it was about the Belarusian civil society, which at the moment is forced to act in exile;
  • Different profiles of participants: human rights organizations, mass media, political organizations, NGOs, academic community were represented;
  • People with different political views and affiliations were present – both supporters of S. Tsikhanouskaya and her opponents, both conservatives and liberals, – it ensured a diversity of opinions and a meaningful and interesting discussion.

Discussion during these three days focused on two main areas:

  • political prisoners, their release, support and rehabilitation;
  • confrontation with the regime in the information space and in the ideological sphere.

Dr. Iryna Sidorskaya (independent researcher) presented the results of work on the topic

After the rigged elections of 2020, the regime of A. Lukashenka declared war on independent media:

  • persecution of journalists: 31 media representatives are currently behind bars, including 8 women;
  • declaring mass media “extremist” and criminalizing their consumption;
  • restriction of access to mass media.

Why the work and support of independent media is important:

  • at least 50% of the respondents note that they consume information from independent media;
  • Belarusians in exile are avid readers of independent mass media;
  • the existing pro-Russian and anti-democratic sentiments in Belarus are formed under the pressure of mass media, especially television, affiliated with the Belarusian and Russian states.

Key messages and values to convey:


  • Belarusian society are stakeholders, not victims;
  • Belarusian society identifies itself with European values;
  • Belarus and Belarusians are a separate nation, not part of the “Russian world”.

Values: independence; freedom of speech, human rights; grassroots activism.

The main components of information sustainability:

  • Strong and persuasive own agenda;
  • Fight against propaganda.

Belarusian independent mass media and non-institutionalized media projects are highly sought after by the Belarusian audience.

Whom it’s important to support:

  • Belarusian creators of mass media and content in exile;
  • Grassroots media initiatives within the country;
  • Professional associations (BAJ, MediaIQ);
  • Initiatives to inform Belarus in different countries (on site);
  • Belarusian Center for Strategic Communications (coordination of inter-sectoral interaction and development of clear and consistent narratives) – under development. This initiative was put forward by the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, namely the Representation on National Revival;
  • Center for the promotion of Belarus (creating and promoting a new brand for Belarus with the messages discussed above) – to be clarified.

How to support:

  • Constant monitoring of media consumption in Belarus;
  • Support for new and existing media projects and institutions;
  • Support for the creation and development of centers of strategic communications and promotion of Belarus;
  • Support of educational programs for youth and media specialists;
  • Professional exchange with mass media and NGOs.

The results of the second working group were presented by Dmitry Balkunets (Belarus Democratic Forum, Co-organizer). The current situation with political prisoners in Belarus is a humanitarian disaster for Europe. According to human rights organizations, there are currently about 1,500 political prisoners in Belarus, but in reality there are up to 6,000 of them.

The main thesis of the speech: it is impossible to solve the problem at the level at which it arose – it is necessary to step up above it.

A. Lukashenka’s motivation to keep political prisoners and continue repression can be seen as follows:

  • Revenge for 2020;
  • Ways to stabilize the situation in Belarus;
  • Creating a pool of hostages for negotiations with the EU and the USA;
  • Compulsion to recognize A. Lukashenka as president.

Key actors, from different sides:

  • А. Lukashenka 
  • Power block (police, special services, prosecutor’s office, courts)
  • The Kremlin
  • Relatives of political prisoners
  • Part of officials
  • Civil society 
  • the EU / the USA
  • Vatican / China / Ukraine

The motivation of Germany / the EU to facilitate or not to facilitate the release of political prisoners in Belarus:

Against the release:

  • Priority of other international problems;
  • Prisoners are not EU citizens;
  • The presence of political prisoners does not affect the economy of the EU;
  • An active position on political prisoners can create a threat to the interests of European business in Belarus and Russia;
  • The presence of political prisoners does not affect the security of the EU;
  • Big business, interested in doing business with Russia and Belarus, can act as a lobbyist and block activities for the release of political prisoners;
  • The threat of closing the embassies of the EU countries in Belarus;
  • Lack of desire.

For release:

  • The presence of political prisoners is a challenge to the values of human rights, which are a priority for a free Europe;
  • The release of political prisoners is a humanitarian mission of the EU;
  • The release of political prisoners as a matter of EU prestige;
  • Potential for business in case of resolution of the political crisis in Belarus;
  • Belarus should not be a threat to the security of Germany and the EU;
  • Impact on political processes in Russia.

Suggestions: The issue of the release of political prisoners should be resolved separately; as an option – the creation of an international Ad-hoc group on the release of political prisoners. There is a need for a specific person or structure from the EU or Germany responsible for this problem: the work must be systematized, the proposals must be tracked and summarized.

Step by step: an individual approach is needed to release each and every political prisoner. Solidarity between the citizens of Belarus, the EU, landmarks, and political figures is also necessary.


  • Identifying the motivation of the main actors;
  • Carrot and stick policy (ultimatum, sanctions, tribunal, etc.);
  • Shuttle diplomacy (mediation of very influential persons);
  • The inclusion of some groups in the exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine;
  • Redemption;
  • Letters from citizens to politicians with a request to help in the release of political prisoners.

Possibilities of solving the problem of political prisoners:

  • Creation of conditions for national dialogue;
  • Formation of legitimate institutions of power;
  • Organization of law enforcement bodies (prosecutor’s office, court);
  • Organization of an international tribunal;
  • Forcing the regime to negotiate;
  • Sanctions as an ultimatum for A. Lukashenka: The release of all political prisoners or the EU will block all movement of cargo trains from Belarus.

Alina Kharysava (Coordination Council of Belarus (Fem Fraction), Member) spoke about her working group.

Main actors and suggestions for them:

  • Human rights defenders, NGOs, MFA workers, donors: suggest help, involve actors, cooperate and be flexible 
  • Former political prisoners, their families and children:  ask for help and accept it 

Currently, there are about 1,500 political prisoners and about 1,400 former political prisoners in Belarus (data of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus). What we do not know is how many of them remained in Belarus, and how many went abroad. But what is clear is that repression is only growing.


1. Medical support – 

  • To work with relatives – to prepare them to any challenges;
  • Check-lists – to make a full health check-up; 
  • Health insurance – to recover from medical tortures; 
  • Health resorts – to again feel like a subject. 

2. Psychological support –  

  • Mentorship – to help with adaptation;
  • Godparenthood – continue and involve more, keep in touch; 
  • Restart of EU programs – to help former prisoners;
  • Local activism – support it financially.  

3. Financial support –

  • Financial support for basic needs;
  • Access to the labor market with help of ABBA, ByMapka and European programs.  

A number of organizations working on this topic:

Одно Окно, Dissidentby, Legal Hub, Bysol, Viasna, Politzek.me 

Materials / Links that should be distributed:

DissidentBy, Categories for help 

Solidarity without borders: a guide on supporting political prisoners from abroad

The final speech of this panel was the speech of Ales Lapko (Belarusian Youth Hub, Executive Director) on the topic “Preserving Belarusian language, culture and national identity. Strategies for Surviving Aggressive Encroachments by “The Russian

World” and Combating Discrimination and Ideological Pressure from Russia and the Lukashenko Regime”.

According to the data of Belarusian Council for Culture, more than 140 cultural figures are behind bars today. In the conditions of repression and mass migration, the preservation of national identity, language and culture becomes even more important. Preservation of Belarusian culture is not a struggle against Russian cultural figures, but:

  • The right of Belarusians to freely use their language, and not to live in fear of being arrested for it on the street;
  • The right to study real history, and not the one rewritten by politicians;
  • The right to be proud of the fact that you are Belarusian, a descendant of ancient European traditions, and a representative of a nation that is just reviving.

Today’s Belarus needs: decolonization, decommunization, de-Sovietization.

Another area of work is supporting those cultural figures who are in exile and cannot return to Belarus due to persecution by the authorities. They create Belarusian culture, are its ambassadors and locomotives, and fit it into the big European family.

Since 2020, more than 300,000 Belarusians have emigrated; most of all – in the EU (Poland and Lithuania). It is important to preserve Belarusianness among Belarusians abroad, who historically assimilate and integrate very quickly.

Integration of Belarusian cultural initiatives: framework of coordination and support

  1. The United Transitional Cabinet Representative for National Revival
  2. Council of Culture
  3. Inbelkult 2.0
  4. Institute of Book
  5. Filmmakers Institute
  6. History Institute
  7. Diaspora Organizations
  8. Media

“Defending Belarusian culture, we will protect European civilization” – this is how Ales Lapko concluded his speech.

The panel continued with a question and answer session; those interested talked more specifically about the creation of an Ad-hoc group and similar examples from recent European history. To the question about the cooperation of such an Ad-hoc group with Volha Harbunova  / the United Transitional Cabinet in general, Dmitry Balkunets answered that it is necessary for this group to be created not by Belarusians, but by European public and political figures, who, among other things, will be authorities for A. Lukashenko. It was discussed how to convey true information to the regions of the Republic of Belarus.

In the comments from the audience, it was noted that the political prisoners of Belarus are hostages of the opposition of democratic forces and the regime, and sanctions are only a factor in the continuation of repression.

Matthias Lüttenberg listed and summarized the current challenges, which the Belarusian democratic community is facing right now, and also talked about the current state of relations between Belarus and Germany.

Despite the fact that more than three years have passed since the peaceful protests against the falsified elections, they still determine the everyday life of Belarusians.

Matthias Lüttenberg noted that in Germany they know about the number of political prisoners, which continues to increase, as well as the worsening of prison conditions. Together with his colleagues, he is trying to attract international attention to this problem.

Despite the fact that a number of large German institutions can no longer work in Belarus (for example, the Goethe Institute, the German Academic Exchange Service) – Germany manages to do certain things in cooperation with Libereco.

Unfortunately, the regime of Belarus is now a danger not only for its nation, but also for its neighbors in the region – it increases instability and danger.

The attempt to influence the regime follows the path of applying sanctions, applying different approaches to Belarus and Russia – this is how the EU tries to show that it understands the difference between the relationship of the peoples of Belarus and Russia to the war in Ukraine.

The German government and parliament constantly continue their work to support the Belarusian civil society. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany tries to offer assistance initiatives for certain groups that are under attack (people of culture, scientists, journalists).

“It is very important for us that the Minsk Forum continues. We hope that it will become a source of hope for better relations between Germany and Belarus. […] The Federal Government of Germany will support Belarusians on their way to a free and independent Belarus, which will be part of Europe”, Matthias Lüttenberg concluded his speech on such a positive note.