Authorities ban Belarus-Sweden conference
Under the pressure from the ideology department of Minsk City Executive Committee, the managers of the Belarus Hotel, where a contact Belarus-Sweden conference was due to take place on 20-22 May, refused a rental agreement. And at the last minute the Belarusian Embassy to Sweden refused visas to the Swedish participants of the contact conference, said the press service of the NGO Assembly.
From 20 to 22 May a contact Belarus-Sweden conference was due to take place in the Belarus Hotel in Minsk with a view to developing contacts, planning new partnership projects and analyzing those already implemented. The conference organizers were the Swedish center for developing international cooperation of civil organizations Forum Syd and the Minsk department of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sweden in Moscow. A total of 100 Belarusian public associations appealed for taking part in the conference, only 30 were selected. Also, today about 17 representatives of the Swedish non-governmental organizations were to have arrived in Minsk. However, the organizers had to call off the conference for an indefinite time.
On Monday (16 May) the Belarus Hotel received a fax from the ideology department of Minsk City Executive Committee. It informed the rental of all premises paid by a foreign organization shall be regarded as foreign aid following the receipt of the fax message. Correspondingly, these funds have to be duly registered with the Department of Humanitarian Activity or Ministry of Economy. Because of this warning made by the ideologists of Minsk City Executive Committee, the hotel managers refused rental of premises to the organizers.
Notwithstanding the fact, another location to host the conference in a somewhat changed format was found. Up to now, the organizers continued sorting out the organization issues. But in the morning they found out that the Belarusian Embassy to Sweden refused visas to the representatives of the Swedish organizations, who planned to take part in the Belarus-Sweden conference in Minsk.
So far no official statements explaining the decision of the Belarusian authorities have been made. However, some Belarusian participants of the conference are sure that all of the obstacles created by the authorities to prevent the conference are politically motivated rather than technical. They are also convinced that the banning of such a large conference shows that public activity in Belarus is unwanted.
Governmental agencies of Sweden (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minsk Department of the Embassy of Sweden in Moscow) were involved with the organization of the cancelled Belarus-Sweden conference. Now, most probably, the issue will be upgraded to the level of the diplomatic relations between Belarus and Sweden.
"Limiting contacts of Belarusians with the foreign partners from democratic countries so rudely implemented by the authorities will not remain unnoticed and causes indignation. The fact that we are deprived of the opportunity to legally conduct meetings with foreign partners does not mean that we are going to refuse any of such contacts in the future. We will be looking for new ways to implement our rights. Each of the foreigners encountering such attitude from the Belarusian authorities to themselves and Belarusians usually starts to do more to change the situation in Belarus", Siarhei Matskievich, the Chair of the Working Group of the NGO Assembly, commented on the ban of the conference.