This year, the Minsk Forum XX consists of two one-day conferences in Lithuania and Poland, a roundtable discussion with MPs in Belgium, and a closing conference in Germany. The second event was held in a hybrid format on 22-23 September at the Belarusian Youth Hub in Warsaw and included, among other activities, two panel discussions, visits to civic organizations’ offices, and the presentation of sociological research. The event was streamed live. The recordings are available in Belarusian and English on the german-belarusian society’s YoutTube channel.
Warsaw, 22-23 September 2022
Belarus and the new competition of systems — a challenge for the European peace order and foreign policy
A short but succinct speech opened the main part of the Forum by Pavel Latushka, Deputy Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus. Latushka outlined the expectations of Belarusians who took the streets in August 2020 and shared his vision of the current situation the country finds itself in: “The truth of the matter is that tomorrow, Belarus might not exist anymore. Instead, we may see a picture like this,“ he said and pointed to the projected image of a mushroom cloud over a Belarusian urban landscape. Latushka noted that he believes in the possibility of changing political reality and is convinced that the course of the war can be changed if the Kremlin is rid of its ally Lukashenko.
Panel Discussion I
Migration Crises in Eastern European countries 2020- 2022: risks, repercussions, possibilities
Artur Michalski (Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland to the Republic of Belarus), Katarzyna Skopiec (co-founder of the Polish foundation HUMANOSH), Alexey Leonchik (co-founder of #BY_help and #BY_sol charity foundations), and Jana Shostak (representative of the Women’s Civic Initiative “Partizanki”) participated in the discussion. Palina Brodik (coordinator, Free Belarus Center, Kyiv) moderated the talk.
In her opening remarks, Ms Brodik drew attention to the importance of switching to Belarusian as one of the main working languages of the Minsk Forum. She also pointed out that the large number of Belarusians who were forced to flee to Poland or other countries is a geopolitical challenge, rather than a “Belarusian issue”. Before giving the floor to Ambassador Michalski, she noted that until 2020, Poland was the most monoethnic country in Europe.
Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the Republic of Belarus Mr Michalski stated that over the past three years, Poland had issued 416 thousand visas to Belarusian citizens in Hrodna, Brest, and Minsk. This is despite the fact that in 2020, Mr Michalski himself was forced to leave Belarus at the request of the Belarusian authorities.
Ms Shostak reminded that Lukashenko’s regime has been maintaining a humanitarian disaster on the Belarus-Poland border all this time, and this disaster is no longer a hot topic because the media are tired of writing about it. She also noted that NGOs now rather focus on long-term work with migrants in the context of educating them as new citizens who need to integrate, get an education, find a job, learn the language, and so on, while there is virtually no primary assistance – such as meeting people directly at the border. Ms Shostak said the first humanitarian reception point for people run by the Red Cross is 20 kilometres from the border. According to her observations, after crossing the border, people are often confused and have no idea where to go and how to proceed, at which point the initiative group, of which Ms Shostak is a member, comes to their aid. This group has built a tent where people who have just crossed the border can sleep, eat and, plan further steps. About 100 people have slept in the tent over the past week, according to Ms Shostak.
Mr Leonchik believes that there have always been more jobs in Poland than people who want to work, and Poland’s economy will not be shaken by either the Belarusian or Ukrainian migration waves. He pointed out that Poland has a liberal labour migration policy providing that an employer’s application is enough to obtain a labour permit. No other EU country, in his opinion, can compare with Poland in this respect. Leonchik also noted in contast to Russian citizens, people with Belarusian citizenship are more privileged in terms of emigration. He emphasized that his expectations of Belarus participating in Russia’s land warfare are very low. He believes that Mr Putin will only come to Mr Lukashenko with such a request when “he runs out of his own people”.
The speakers mentioned the following problems: general exhaustion from the constant need to help migrants whose number keeps increasing (Mr Leonchik); lack of rehabilitation programs for former political prisoners (Ms Shostak), and lack of integration programs for children with different ethnic backgrounds in schools (Ms Skopiec).
Mr Leonchik and Ms Shostak agreed that individual action and p2p interaction were sometimes more productive than numerous marches or attempts to change the system globally:
“Marches and demonstrations in other countries are important, but it is even more important to help at least one neighbour. Not just on a symbolic level of showing solidarity, but in real action” – Ms Shostak.
“We have to start with ourselves. We must stop thinking too much about global things. If you can’t manage global constructs, you can do a lot on a human, personal level” – Mr Leonchik.
Panel Discussion II
Shifting geopolitical order and the future of Eastern Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
The participants of the discussion were Prof. Agnieszka Legucka (analyst, the Polish Institute of International Affairs), Uladzimir Astapenka (Deputy Representative for Foreign Policy of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus), and Anastasiia Sergeeva (chair of board, WOT foundation). The talk was moderated by Veranika Laputska (co-founder and research fellow, EAST – Eurasian States in Transition).
Ms Legucka recalled how a week ago, in a similar discussion, she said that there would be no mobilization in Russia because the Russian population does not support Putin and his desire for war, both in Syria and now in Ukraine. She was forced to admit that her predictions were not accurate – for the past few days, the whole world has been discussing the beginning of a “partial” mobilization in Russia. “Which is actually not partial at all,” Ms Legucka insisted and added that if you read the decree carefully, you can see that the Russian ministries have full control over how many people to engage in the war. She also believes that Russians need to put a lot of effort into figuring out how to adapt to the situation: “Not to protest, but to literally adapt, namely, to find a way to leave the country”.
Ms Legucka believes that the Kremlin is trying to shock and intimidate the West with its statements about the potential nuclear attack to reduce the amount of Western military support for Ukraine. She cannot say whether these statements are a bluff or not because “Putin is desperate,” but she knows for sure that NATO is taking these statements seriously and is preparing scenarios for possible actions, including in case nuclear weapons are used in the end.
An important part of Ms Sergeeva’s speech was the thesis that Russia is currently experiencing a huge deficit of alternative political ideas, whose message would be simple enough to be understood and supported by the general population of the country. She is also convinced that there is no real democratic opposition in Russia and Putin has done everything in his power to destroy it.
As for the numerous cases of emigration of Russians who are against Putin and his war, Sergeeva thinks that it would be better if these people were allowed into the EU, rather than making them flee Ukraine and ask for support there. Regarding the elites inside Russia, even before the announcement of the “partial” mobilization, the researcher noticed two opposite signals from them. On the one hand, some of the elites have announced their self-mobilization and see certain financial benefits in the war: “For them, the war is the ‘new oil’. They are building their business on the war and will support its carrying on”. On the other hand, Sergeeva explained, the same people do not want to become victims of nuclear war.
The topic of possible mobilization in Belarus was touched upon both during this and the previous discussion, and the majority of the speakers (Ms Sergeeva, Ms Legucka, and Mr Leonchik) are of the opinion that there will be no mobilization in Belarus. At the same time, according to Mr Astapenka, Belarusians should remember that all the arguments that Putin used in relation to Ukraine may one day be used with regard to Belarus. And the more success Ukraine has on the battlefield, the more actively the Belarusian political elites will prepare for new possible political scenarios.
Belarusians in Poland, Lithuania, Georgia: attitude to the war, aid to Ukraine, discrimination
At the end of the day, independent sociologist Philipp Bikanau presented the results of the research “Belarusians in Poland, Lithuania, Georgia: attitude to the war, aid to Ukraine, discrimination”. The full text of the research is available on the website of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which supported its realization. The main results of this qualitative sociological research are the following:
- Almost all Belarusians in Poland, Lithuania, and Georgia do not support Lukashenko and strongly oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine
- Ethnic discrimination and hostility have become part of Belarusians’ social reality in Georgia, Poland and Lithuania
- Belarusians residing in Poland, Lithuania and Georgia support Ukraine and Ukrainians with concrete actions, despite the discrimination
Thus, at the Second Session of Minsk Forum XX in Warsaw, the new geopolitical reality of Belarus was discussed. Former binary oppositions “immigrants – emigrants”, “peace – war”, and “independent state – occupied territory” were replaced by new, more complex categories. For instance, de jure, Belarus is not directly involved in the war, but de facto is an accomplice in the war crimes of Russia and Putin. The main actors of the Belarusian civil society are those living outside of the country for several years now. Apparently, the situation will not become simpler in the near future and will be determined by new geopolitical circumstances, where the future of Belarus will largely depend on the course of Russia’s war in Ukraine.