“The most important aspect of the meeting was that representatives of the opposition and government sat at the same table, and engaged in a quite open discussion about the situation in Belarus. Some positive signs of progress have emerged recently, and the situation for the opposition appears to have improved. However, it was also clear that the general situation in the country is not great and that more democratic reforms are needed,” said Wille Rydman, MP (National Coalition Party, Finland) a member of the Presidium of the Nordic Council.
The meeting in Vilnius was chaired by Jānis Vucāns, President of the Baltic Assembly, and Wille Rydman, a Finnish member of the Presidium of the Nordic Council.
Still difficult for the opposition
After the meeting, Rydman said that the opposition in Belarus still faces difficulty, for example when registering parties and candidates for elections and trying to take part in the political process. However, he stressed the importance of keeping the dialogue alive.
“It became clear at the meeting that there is not very much dialogue in Belarus between the opposition och government, and that most of the dialogue is conducted in international arenas like the meeting in Vilnius. If there is anything we can do to maintain the dialogue, we will be only too pleased to do so,” he added.
The Nordic Council and Baltic Assembly have been hosting annual seminars on Belarus since 2007. For the first four years, MPs and opposition politicians attended the roundtable talks. In 2010, the event was held in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, but otherwise it has always been held in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
The political chill that set in after the presidential election in December 2010 meant that only opposition politicians and representatives of NGOs attended the meetings with Nordic and Baltic politicians in the period 2011–2015. However, opposition candidates were elected for the first time in decades at the 2016 general election, making it possible for representatives of the parliament to take part in the meeting once again.
Review of the general election
Kent Härstedt (SWE) also took part in the seminar on Monday. He is Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and was head of the team of observers at the general election in Belarus. He presented his own evaluation of the election, and a provided an overview of the political situation in the country.
Some European organisations are now considering whether the time has come to resume contact with official bodies in Minsk. The speakers at the seminar included many from Belarus, e.g. Galina Filippovitj MP and Tatjana Korotkevitj, the 2015 Presidential candidate for the opposition group Tell the Truth.