Minsk Forum XVIII

2–3 December 2020

In 2020, Belarus finds itself gripped by crisis and in a state of upheaval. The sham presidential elections in August sent and continue to send hundreds of thousands of people into the street who refuse to let their voice and their right to self-determination be stolen. The President and his government have reacted with a violence and repression that shows no intent of rapprochement. Thousands of people have been arrested, and the number of political prisoners continues to rise. The people have expressed great courage and determination, meeting this violence with peaceful protest.

The “Minsk Forum” is a recurring conference established by Rainer Lindner in 1997 to promote dialogue at the national and international level. Over the years, the German-Belarusian Society (deutsch-belarussische gesellschaft e. V., dbg), has grown to become a unique platform for members of the political, economic, and civil society spheres of Belarus and its neighbouring countries to meet and exchange ideas.

For more than two decades, Minsk Forum has accompanied Belarus along the complex path it walks between Russia and the European Union. It has undertaken the ever-challenging task of facilitating and promoting dialogue between members of government, civil society, and the political opposition, between Belarus and its neighbours, as well as with Germany.

The Minsk Forum was one of the first places where government and opposition were able to meet. Between 2011 and 2015, the Minsk Forum took place in Vilnius, as its organisers decided not to hold the conference in Belarus, following the 2010 presidential election and the ensuing violence perpetrated against the political opposition.

A dialogue over historical and cultural matters and the development of economic contacts have also played an important role. The challenges of a sustainable modernisation and diversification of the economy in Belarus remain significant and require intensive cooperation with partners in the West, as well as the creation of an independent judiciary.

Today, organising a Minsk Forum devoted to furthering this dialogue might at first glance seem close to impossible. In truth, we do not believe that we as outsiders should dictate the way forward. We do stand together with people who are peacefully demanding their rights, and we are calling for an end to the violence and for the release of all political prisoners. At the same time, we remain firmly convinced of the need for society to engage in a dialogue over its political future, and we hope to use our resources to create a space that helps foster such a dialogue. Which is why, even under the current situation, we have again invited members of the government to participate in this year’s edition of the Minsk Forum, an opportunity they have unfortunately refused.

We should not remain indifferent to what is happening in Belarus. As a result, we do not wish, within Germany and the EU, to remain mere observers. We instead feel impacted by the events and want to discuss them, to talk about what we can do to express our solidarity and to help and support Belarus along its path towards a future of self-determination.

The Minsk Forum is organised by the German-Belarusian Society (dbg), which just last year celebrated its twentieth anniversary. At the end of 2019 Markus Meckel, former member of the German Parliament for the SPD party and, as a former Foreign Minister, one of the chief negotiators for the historic “2+4” talks over German unification, was elected Chairman of the dbg. Partners include the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies. Once again this year, the Minsk Forum is being held with the patronage of the German Embassy in Minsk.

Markus Meckel, Chairman of the German-Belarusian Society