Belarus’s oft-maligned civil society rises to Covid challenge


Freedom House

Belarus’s oft-maligned civil society, which most people had written off years ago – after 26 years of persecution and authoritarian rule – has risen to the challenge of confronting the Covid pandemic, notes political strategist Vitali Shkliarov. The professionalism and adaptiveness displayed by many of these organizations in responding to the pandemic, in the absence of government action, compares favorably to their counterparts in liberal Western societies, he writes for RealClearWorld:

One example is the media nonprofit ‘Imena’ (‘Names’). Under normal circumstances, Imena’s main activities are collecting financial aid for vulnerable groups and raising awareness of social issues. In the current crisis, they have refocused their efforts. Now they  collect protective equipment for social workers, the elderly, and teachers, and help hospitals to recruit volunteers….. Another group is the new #ByCovid19 initiative (above). This movement, established by experienced activists, is coordinating donations to medical facilities via their simple yet effective website. …In this same vein is the longstanding ‘Tell the Truth’ (Говори правду) movement. Tell the Truth has been organizing PPE assembly across the country and delivering free meals to doctors working in Minsk, Gomel, Rechitsa and Mozyr.

“This did not appear out of thin air,” Shkliarov adds. “It was the result of years of slow progress, during which local activists and organizations like NDI, NED, IRI, USAID, Amnesty International honed their skills, made connections, and learned to work effectively with one another.”

Belarus’s Emerging Civil Society in the Time of COVID-19 

For over two decades, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shielded his country from change and fostered a quasi-Soviet economy and society, the Wilson Center adds. But even as his pressure never eased, Belarus has developed social and cultural movements that have gained traction in the human rights sphere as well as in the coronavirus relief effort. The possibility of profound political change is premature but Lukashenko, a self-professed “COVID-dissident,” has alienated some of his staunchest supporters by prioritizing his politics over his country’s struggles.

Katsiaryna Shmatsina, Rethink.CEE fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.; Franak Viačorka, Digital Media Strategist, U.S. Agency for Global Media; Vytis Jurkonis, Project Director, Freedom House; and Maxim Trudolyubov, Senior Advisor; Editor-in-Chief, Russia File @russiafiles will discuss the emerging civil society in Belarus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Please note that this event will be from 1:00pm-2:15pm ET on Monday, June 8. RSVP


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