A series of events to support the Belarusian democratic movement

This spring the Swedish Institute have organised two events called The Future Forum for civil society actors, journalists and researchers from Belarus. The events held in Vilnius and Warsaw were organised in collaboration with the organisation Center for New Ideas and included workshops, panel discussions and networking opportunities.

Some of the topics covered included wellbeing and digital security, challenges for media inside Belarus, how the youth are envisioning the future of Belarus and the consequences of relocation for civil society.  

This is part of a series of meetings that Sweden is organising in support to the Belarusian diaspora. In May the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies organised a conference on Belarus to strengthen dialogue with Belarusian democratic forces in exile.

We have talked to Nadzeya Ilkevich, Executive Director at Create Culture, who attended the meeting in Vilnius. Nadzeya Ilkevich is also a participant in this year’s SI Leader Lab, the Swedish Institute’s leadership programme for influential civil society leaders. 

How would you describe the Future Forum, and why is it important for you to attend? 

The Future Forum has been a great event. It has served as a platform for civil society activists and leaders to learn, share opinions and participate in important discussions with their colleagues and representatives from international organisations. I learned that we need more discussions within the NGO sector between different actors. You can stay connected and get updates on the current situation in Belarus, brainstorm new ways of transformation and find new opportunities for personal growth and collaboration.  

What are the challenges for relocated civil society actors outside of Belarus at the moment? 

– There are many. However, I can emphasize the two most important ones, in my opinion. It is to develop Belarusian democratic civil society in a new environment and on new terms, and also to preserve connections to people who remain in Belarus. It’s so important to continue to work for them, not only for people who have relocated.  

What are the challenges for Belarusian artists and cultural professionals outside of Belarus at the moment? 

– We have just completed some research on the current state of Belarusian cultural managers, and I can point out a few challenges that we have noticed:  

  • lack of professional educational programmes, specifically for cultural managers and creative producers  
  • decreasing number of opportunities to work closely with colleagues from inside Belarus 
  • the focus on short-term projects, means managers in the cultural sector need to have a full-time job in other sectors, remaining cultural activities as “part-time” or freelance. 

What kind of support is needed? 

– There are more and more opportunities for short-term and small-scale project support. For many networks and institutions, the only way to survive with this setup is a “non-stop-production” mode. Thus, in order to avoid burnouts, I think the Belarusian cultural and NGO sector need an opportunity to plan long-term projects (1-2 years at least) with a more strategic approach.  

What are your takeaways after participating a few months in the leadership programme SI Leader Lab? 

– SI Leader Lab gives you a deeper understanding of the processes in society and gives you, not only explanations, but the tools on how to become a good and responsible leader in your organisation, and your community. One of the best components is the international network of participants, from whom I learned about the situation of civil society in other countries. I learned how they are leading their teams towards democratic society, and shared information about the current situation in Belarus.  

Center for New Ideas is an analytical center that works for the sake of the new Belarus and their mission is to help society and political actors build a more open, prosperous and sustainable Belarus.