On Monday 6th February a packed room at the National Liberal Club took part in a forum on Belarus, co-hosted by Liberal Youth and Liberal International British Group. The event covered a wide range of the problems the country currently faces; such as an oppressive dictatorship, lack of human rights and failing economy.
Belarus is often branded the ‘Last Dictatorship in Europe’ and has seen violent crackdowns on opposition protesters, many of which are young liberal activists.
The event began with an expert panel giving their take on the situation. Yarik Kyrvoi, founder and editor of Belarus Digest, began proceedings. His knowledge of day to day life in Belarus was a perfect foundation for later discussions and later his in depth analysis of the political system raised key concerns of the opposition movement in the country. The audience then heard what efforts have been made in the UK and Houses of Parliament by Jo Swinson MP. With her experience of being Foreign Affairs Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, it was interesting to learn what efforts have been made to address the issue and her meetings with activists from Belarus. Her call for a continuation of contact with opposition members was well received by all.
The last to speak was former Programme Coordinator for Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House turned political consultant Alex Nice. His focus was on the international picture, in particular Belarus’ relationship with the EU and Council of Europe. It became evident how detached Belarus had become from Western Europe and its reliance upon Russia for stability. Alex’s points on this aspect were insightful and provoked a healthy debate among those in the audience.
With the speeches finished the event was opened to the floor for the most part of the evening. Here the forum became informal, allowing anyone in the room to raise questions, add further insight and add to interesting debates. Interaction between the audience and panel became a great way to learn more and raise concerns. The audience was a mix of young activists and older members who have had experiences with the country which allowed lively discussions throughout.
At the end of the event it became apparent that Belarus faces a difficult future with no immediate solutions to its political or economic problems. Both the panel and audience rappelled with the question of how to engage with the country and its worrying relationship with Russia.
Liberal Youth extends specials thanks to Liberal International British Group for their help in organising the event, those who spoke and to Jonathan Fryer for chairing the event. With the night being such a success, Liberal Youth and Liberal International British Group hope to do similar events in the future.