Statement in connection with problems with the participation of Belarusian independent organizations in European mobility programs

Statement in connection with problems with the participation of Belarusian independent organizations in European mobility programs

We, the union of forty one democratic youth organizations of Belarus, being created to consolidate youth organizations and initiatives of Belarus for representation, promotion and defending common interests, exercising the right to freedoms of association and other constitutional rights, represented by the Governing Body – the Board of “RADA”, make the following letter regarding limitations of access of Belarusian youth to youth exchanges and participation in the Erasmus+ programme.

We emphasize the fact that the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens are absolutely not respected nowadays in Belarus. One of many examples is the right to freedom of association. There are numerous cases of political repressions and pressure on the independent Civil Society Organizations (further CSOs). Since 2020 civil society has been under severe pressure in Belarus. More than 1600 Belarusian CSOs have been liquidated or are in the process of liquidation. In many cases, it becomes unsafe for activists to stay in Belarus because of their political views and civil activism. Under current conditions democratic CSOs have no opportunity to act freely on the territory of Belarus. Many of those CSOs and young people who were forced to leave Belarus are part (or potential part) of European Youth Mobility programs, particularly Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps.

Despite the above-mentioned difficulties, we see that participation of Belarusian youth CSOs in European Youth Mobility programs is extremely vital and we stand for implementation of additional rules for Belarusian youth and youth CSOs in European Solidarity Corps and Erasmus+ programs in order to:

  • Ensure visibility and recognition of the youth movement and civic society of Belarus;
  • Ensure wide public recognition and in-depth understanding of the real situation in Belarus;
  • Build capacities of Belarusian youth civic activists;
  • Further promote values of human rights, rule of law and democracy among Belarusian young people;
  • Express solidarity with Belarusian civic organizations and activists;
  • Highlight that vast majority of Belarusian young people are against the war;
  • Ensure representation of the national identity of Belarus on multiple platforms within the EU;
  • Strengthen the democratic development in Belarus.

RADA and Lawtrend prepared the analytical review of the situation and conditions of young people after the events of August 2020. It describes in details the current state of the youth sector in Belarus. Additionally, a team of RADA prepared an alternative report on the rights of youth in Belarus to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the UN. 

In 2022 at the level of the European Youth Forum RADA highlighted that representatives of Belarusian youth CSOs, including member organisations of RADA, were and still are facing various types of discrimination on a basis of nationality. Despite the fact that they are political refugees, Belarusians were treated as allies of Lukashenko regime and discriminated in numerous cases in European Academia, loosing their working places. As a result, a special Motion on Non-Discrimination of Young Belarusian Activists and Support for Democratic Principles in Europe was adopted by European Youth Forum. 

Over 3 000 (3790 – SALT II Clearing House meeting, October 2022) students and academic staff have participated in Erasmus+ exchanges since 2009, and 3 400 (4776) young Belarusian people and workers have participated in joint exchanges, training and projects in the EU. We furthermore underline that thousands of  Belarusian young people have taken part in Erasmus+, European Solidarity Corps and European Voluntary Service programs; it is crucial to recognise that hundreds of young people from Europe visited Belarus as part of the above-mentioned programs. We are pointing out that the contribution of mobility programs had previously and can have now an enormous impact on the development of Belarusian youth, namely, the formation of active citizenship of young people on democratic values, the development of important modern skills through non-formal education, openness to multicultural dialogue, motivation to learn foreign languages, proactivity, etc.

Despite all efforts, we still see facts of discrimination against young Belarusians, when many Belarusian CSOs are staying active and continuing to perform their activities for the benefit of Belarusian people and youth in particular from abroad and domestically. RADA would like to ask You for support in some areas of advocacy for the Belarusian youth at the European level. 

Young Belarusians face the following challenges in European mobility programmes:

  1. The fact of liquidation means to CSOs that they no longer could be subjects of the above-mentioned mobility programs. The organizations that are in process of liquidation meet difficulties in performing their duties in accordance with the current program rules;
  2. It is almost impossible for democratic CSOs to act on the territory of Belarus (including spreading any information in media) as there is criminal liability for acting on behalf of an unregistered organization or those in process of liquidation;
  3. It gets more and more difficult for CSOs to find participants for projects in Belarus as more and more active young people are forced to leave Belarus. Belarusians settled abroad can’t participate in mobility programs on behalf of Belarus (according to the rules of the European Solidarity Corps and Erasmus+, participants should be residents of a country they present);
  4. Young people in Belarus could be prosecuted for cooperating with liquidated CSOs or CSOs in a process of liquidation;
  5. Many organizations avoid Belarusian CSOs as partners as they associate them with co-aggressor of Russian invasion in Ukraine, while it is far from true;
  6. It is very difficult to arrange any kind of visa in a short time for participants from Belarus due to long waiting lists and country-wise restrictions;
  7. It is impossible to receive any project payments as the bank accounts of CSOs are under strict control and restrictions due to sanctions of the EU to Belarus. It includes travel costs reimbursement and other possible project costs;
  8. Travel costs from Belarus to any European country are mostly much higher than the reimbursement that is foreseen by mobility projects while young people in Belarus often do not have enough income to afford their travel.

Potential negative consequences of this discriminatory policy against young Belarusians are:

  • The national identity of Belarusian participants has fewer chances to be shown, while today it is already a big problem for Belarusians (for example, among some social groups all over the world there is still a misunderstanding of Belarus not as a sovereign country but as a part of Russia);
  • Belarusian CSOs get even fewer chances to survive as they are constantly being deprived of the rights and possibilities to perform their activities;
  • The civic society of Belarus has fewer chances to be seen and heard, consequently, all the Belarussians get more and more associated with the regime of Lukashenko and Russian aggression;
  • The place of democratic CSOs in Belarus can be taken by GoNGOs (Government-affiliated NGOs) which will bring more censorship for participants regarding their political views and leave behind the neutrality that true democratic CSOs are standing for.

Despite the above-mentioned formal obstacles, the Belarusian National Youth Council RADA proposes to jointly conduct advocacy work in the following directions: 

  1. Let the Belarusians who are currently abroad to take part in projects on behalf of Belarus and not the country of their current residence if they wish so;
  2. Ensure recognition to the illegally liquidated Belarusian CSOs including the opportunity to take part in Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps representing democratic Belarus;
  3. Create a mechanism of verification for the Belarusian youth CSOs that would prove that an applicant organization is active and doesn’t support the regime of Lukashenko or/and Russian invasion in Ukraine. Belarusian National Youth Council RADA is ready to take the lead in creating and implementing of such mechanism; 
  4. Formulate a joint position on the exclusion of Belarusian youth organisations that are either pro-government (state-funded) or close allies of the Belarusian authorities (GoNGOs) from participating in or receiving grants;
  5. Consider the possibility of opening core support to the liquidated Belarusian youth organizations to ensure their recognition and continuation of the work of the democratic youth movement of Belarus as a member of the European youth family;
  6. Consider the ways to make the participation of Young people from Belarus in the European mobility programs more accessible economically and logistically.