How to prepare for working with an organisation in Belarus

Below are recommendations that were noted during the online meeting of 7.12.2020 on cooperation with Belarussian organisations and providing support for Belarusians who came to Poland last year due to the political situation in their country.

If you have any queries or comments, please contact the bilateral cooperation and Active Citizens Fund – National Programme coordinator (afedas@batory.org.pl, tel. + (+48) 22 536 02 41).

Important note: Belarussians are going through a difficult time, but this is also an interesting and important time for the civic society. They have a unique opportunity to consider what to strive for and the kind of country they would like to live in. Their interest has become the common good. We need to accompany them in this process, find intelligent ways to support them, and demonstrate the solidarity that we would expect of our neighbours.

The Active Citizens Fund – National Programme could present a good opportunity to forge a Polish-Belarusian partnership, and jointly apply for funds under the Programme. We are proposing:

  • a two-step application procedure; the first step is submission of project outlines, for which no documents need to be enclosed
  • a user-friendly, electronic means of applying
  • an option of change of partner and addition and deletion at every stage of the application process
  • a period of more than six months (from the project outline step to the call results and the signing of the agreement for funding) to refine the concept (for example working together with a partner) and consider and discuss all measures and the budget
  • no required contribution
  • additional funds for capacity building of the lead organisation and partner organisations (including for example the Belarusian organisation)
  • additional funds are available for cooperation with a minimum of one foreign partner from a Donor State (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway)
  • a flexible approach on the part of the operator when there are external factors that may affect the project, such as the political situation, pandemic, etc.

1) Please be patient! There are many things over which neither your nor a Belarusian organisation have control, and which simply have to be accepted.

2) Be aware that it is very difficult to register social organisations/CSOs in Belarus, especially those that deal with human rights and democracy, but also those that deal with young people and sometimes even sport. This is especially true when the people involved in the organisation are placed on government lists of activists that take part in human rights activity or protests. Belarusian CSOs simply operate in exceptionally difficult conditions. For more information about this go to https://csometer.info/countries/belarus. If a particular organisation in Belarus is not officially registered anywhere in one of the countries listed below, it can certainly be a formal partner in your project under the Active Citizens Fund – National Programme: Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Russia, Rumania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine.

3) Beware of GONGO organisations. These are organisations founded and funded by the state. For more information about this go to https://www.lawtrend.org/freedom-of-association/problema-gongo-v-stranah-regiona-obse-tezisy-vystupleniya-na-parallelnoj-konferentsii-grazhdanskogo-obshhestva-obse-2016
The authorities demand loyalty in return for providing public funds. Even cooperation with local authorities, or for example public institutions, means that there is a risk of cooperating with persons who played a part in election rigging, and/or who might be involved in persecution of social activists, etc.

4) Be aware that all crowdfunding platforms have been closed down by the state, and therefore for the time being public fundraising activity is impossible. It is not easy to obtain financing for social organisations, and such financing is not universally available. Under the Active Citizens Fund – National Programme, there is no required contribution, but if you would like to have a required contribution in your project – bear in mind that this might be difficult for a Belarusian organisation to obtain.

5) Give some consideration to the form of cooperation with the partner. The procedure for providing foreign funds for a Belarusian organisation is very difficult and complex. Permission of this kind is not given for every kind of activity. It can take as long as nine months for Belarusian public institutions to register a grant of that kind, and that can severely hinder a project. Sometimes, this can be done without indirect transfer of funds to a Belarusian partner organisation. It is worth analysing other options as well. Under the Active Citizens Fund – National Programme, it is also possible to make a cash payment, and for the partnership leader submitting the application to cover all the costs.

6) Be aware that the work of activists in Belarusian organisations can be significantly hampered by the pandemic and their involvement in protests or other self-help/solidarity campaigning, which means that there is a heavy burden due to the extra work. They are not always able to write back straightaway and make decisions quickly. Understanding needs to be shown in this regard.

7) Use secure means of communication, and document encoding software. If you do not have any experience in this area, and don’t know which means of communication are secure, ask the Belarusian partner what kind of communication is the most secure and sound for them.

8) Be ready for unexpected and unscheduled situations. If any study visits take place, this has to be by aeroplane via the airport in Minsk, otherwise (if road or rail is used) Belarusians might have problems re-entering their country (for more information about this go to https://www.gazetaprawna.pl/wiadomosci/artykuly/1495526,lukaszenka-powrot-do-kraju-koronawirus.html). Make allowances for a possible change of participants at short notice, just before departure. Always have a plan B, so that the venue can be moved to another country or the event can be held online.

9) The language used when talking to Belarusian organisations is Russian, which is the best option, and sometimes Ukrainian or English (find out if this is possible) and sometimes even Polish, but this is not a given. Nonetheless, you can try writing to each other using Google Translate, hire an interpreter, or get someone in the organisation who speaks Russian, for example. Remember that where there’s a will there’s a way. If both parties have the motivation to work together, a language will be found as well, and be figured out as cooperation proceeds. It is worth working on the finer details of matters relating to the cooperation itself rather than language issues.

Be specific about what you can offer in connection with the cooperation, and what you expect from your partner. This will speed up communication. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learnt how to operate online. It is worth putting this to use to organise a meeting to break the ice and agree the forms of communication. You can always ask the bilateral cooperation and Active Citizens Fund – National Programme coordinator (afedas@batory.org.pl) for assistance.

10) If study visits and joint excursions are envisaged in your project, be ready to provide the Belarusian organisation with assistance in getting visas. This link contains plenty of useful tips https://interwencjaprawna.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/bialorus-PL.pdf Remember to account for insurance in the budget.

11) Think ‘out of the box’, start thinking creatively, and choose unconventional solutions. Perhaps someone in your organisation could observe the process/discussion from a distance, instead of putting the safety of the organisation in question at risk due to frequent travel. Perhaps it is worth finding a form of cooperation that neither your nor the Belarusian organisation have used before.

12) Be appreciative of the difficult situation in which Belarusians find themselves. Keep track of events in Belarus, find out about the political situation in the country. Avoid organising events that are important to them, such as a discussion about the project, on a day of remembrance of those killed due to repression or days on which there are other important events. Be considerate and do not be afraid to ask when you do not know or are unsure about something.

Areas in which polish organisations could work with Belarusian organisations:

1) SUPPORT IN ORGANISATIONAL MATTERS – organisational development, helping to organise work, planning activities during crises and evaluation of resources, assistance with visas. Assistance can also be provided mutually where people working in a social organisation experience burnout, and knowledge and know-how can be shared regarding working under pressure and in stressful conditions. Belarusian activists dealing for example with human rights, helping victims of torture, etc. need this kind of support in particular.

2) SHARING KNOW-HOW, IDEAS, AND DREAMS – with stress on the word ‘sharing’ (as a partnership, as equals, with balance between the parties as far as possible). On one hand, Belarusians need new ideas for support for the elderly, projects that reach across generations, and measures to support minorities (these issues have been put on hold for the time being due to the political situation). On the other hand, Belarusians have unique know-how when it comes to organising protests, passing information, IT systems, safe negotiation of the Internet, providing aid for those repressed, tortured, etc. This an enormous amount of know-how and practical solutions which would definitely be useful to Polish social organisations.

Useful links and contacts:

If you are looking for a partner for a project from Belarus and/or want to make an announcement among Belarusian organisations, write to ngo@belngo.info

For information about the conditions in which CSOs operate in Belarus go to https://csometer.info/countries/belarus/

For a list of winners of the competition/call for active citizens in Belarus, called “Champions of Civil Society/Mistrzowie społeczeństwa obywatelskiego” 2019, go to https://belngo.info/2020.champions-of-civil-society-2019-were-celebrated-in-minsk.html

The whole story https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Society_Champions

Youth bonus https://rada.fm/2020/01/05/vyiniki-rada-awards-2019/

Premia Zrobili https://citydog.by/post/zrabili-2020/

A map of activities of Belarusian Falanster organisations (be aware that this might not include all of the present organisations)

For information in Polish about the civic society in Belarus go to (materials in Polish):

Handbook for Belarusian citizens who want to emigrate to Poland

Recording of the debate Belarusian society – from indifference to commitment

Political crisis and social awakening of Belarus

The birth of the Belarusian civic community and the role of social organisations. Commentary on 100 days of protests

Belarusian speakers – on the move and without complexes

If you would like to provide support for Belarusians living in Poland, this is what you need to know:

1) SCALE – in the period from August to November 2020, approximately 12 000 people, 270 people applied for international aid. Depending on the social and political situation, this number could rise rapidly, and this needs to be accounted for in your project.

2) LOCATION – there are three centres (Białystok, Biała Podlaska, Warsaw, in which persons applying for refugee status in Poland reside). Other persons who come to Poland from Belarus settle in the big cities or in close proximity to the Polish-Belarusian border

3) NEEDS RELATING TO GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT: under the latest legislation, persons from Belarus who are in Poland may work legally, and therefore there could be a great need for career advice and help with job seeking, and measures to avoid exploitation.

4) STUDENTS EXPELLED FROM BELARUSSIAN HIGHER EDUCATION: the Kalinowski grant scheme was extended until 31.12.2020, and we await resumption of the scheme from May 2021. This means that students from Belarus can be expected to come to Poland in increasing numbers.

5) POLISH – there are not enough Polish language courses for all of the Belarussians living in Poland. Polish lessons are only provided for a few groups and do not always address their needs (the number of hours provided etc.).

6) SCHOOLS – support for young Belarusians who want to go to Polish schools could prove to be vital in the near future. Unfortunately not every head teacher of a Polish school will consent to take Belarusian pupils (against the law), and this is all the more reason to become involved in this issue.

7) PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT – people coming to Poland may have posttraumatic stress disorder, which means that there certainly is and will be a need for all forms of work with trauma, stress, burnout, etc. for immigrants from Belarus.

8) PROCES OF ADAPTATION IN POLAND – this term encompasses a whole range of issues such as legal aid, accounting services, finding accommodation, getting to know the neighbours, and help with becoming familiar with a city and the public institutions in it. In most cases, the move to Poland was not planned, and this is why there are cases in which not all matters relating to the move have been properly considered and organised. The Polish state still does not have an immigration policy, and there is a shortage of procedures in place. The procedures that are in place are incomplete and they leave much to be desired. This is another area for Polish social organisations that deal with this issue.

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