Minsk Forum XXI Warsaw Session: Supporting Activists and Political Prisoners within Belarus

Minsk Forum XXI

It is important to support the remainders of the civil society and activist groups existing inside Belarus, because political changes will most likely commence from within the country, according to the workshop results.

Takeaways from a Workshop

Belarus in the context of the war in Ukraine became the topic of one of two workshops at the conference of Minsk Forum that took place in Warsaw on 2 October 2023. The workshop was moderated by Kamil Kłysiński, Senior Fellow, Department for Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. At the OSW Centre for Eastern Studies.

Participants of the workshop divided in three groups and analysed the current situation from three perspectives: the regime in Minsk, the exiled opposition movement, and the remainders of the civil society within Belarus.

The results of the third working group, which focussed on support for civil society in Belarus within the country, shed light on essential efforts to bolster remaining civil society groups and extend support to political prisoners both at home and abroad.

Supporting civil society groups within Belarus

The working group emphasised the fundamental idea that change in Belarus will most likely commence from within the country itself. It is within this context that the importance of supporting the remainders of the civil society and activist groups existing in the underground and under immense pressure becomes evident. Despite the challenges and oppression, thousands of activists continue their struggle against the authoritarian regime within Belarus.

External stakeholders, including international organisations, democratic countries, and the European Union, have a significant role to play. The group called for systematic and flexible support to be provided to unregistered NGOs and democratic activist groups within Belarus.

This support should primarily address physical, digital, and psychological security, as well as strategic stable development to enhance the groups’ influence on potential democratic transition in the country.

An essential aspect of this approach is to collaborate with organisations and teams that have experience in providing such assistance discreetly.

Support for political prisoners

Political prisoners have become a symbol of the struggle for democracy in Belarus. The working group’s recommendations include a call to action for civil society, democratic structures, and EU countries to initiate the development and adoption of a resolution in the European Parliament focusing on the support of political prisoners. This resolution would include key demands:

  1. Demands for release: Immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners who have been unjustly detained for their activism and dissent.
  2. Improving detention conditions: Advocating for improved conditions of detention, addressing issues related to human rights violations, and ensuring prisoners’ access to fair legal proceedings.
  3. Future and release conversations: Initiate dialogues about the future of political prisoners and the potential for their release, ensuring that their rights are respected and upheld.

Evacuation, adaptation, and support

Additionally, the working group called upon the European Union, its funds, and various organisations to implement comprehensive programmes aimed at the evacuation, adaptation, and ongoing support of political prisoners and migrants. These programmes would help individuals who have faced persecution in Belarus to rebuild their lives in safer environments while maintaining their commitment to the cause of democracy.