The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been working on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to support the establishment of democratic and rule-of-law structures in the Republic of Belarus since 2003. Six staff are currently deployed with local employers in Belarus.
The parliament of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic issued a Declaration of Sovereignty in July 1990, paving the way for the country’s independence. Further reforms to introduce democracy, the rule of law and a free market economy were halted by President Alexander Lukashenko in 1996, when a constitutional amendment granted him sweeping powers and legislative authority. After that, relations with the European Union (EU) were strained, despite repeated official attempts to underline an interest in establishing close ties.
The most recent presidential elections in 2015 passed off without violence and repression, opening up new prospects for political and economic dialogue between Germany and Belarus. In light of this development, the EU is attempting to place its relations with the Republic of Belarus on a new footing. The lifting of most of the sanctions against Belarus in late February 2016 was one step in this gradual process.
Belarus has been struggling with major economic problems since 2015. Like other post-Soviet countries, Belarus is making efforts to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, but progress – for example, in the renewable energy sector – is slow.
Although Belarus describes itself as a democratic state based on the rule of law, power is concentrated in the hands of the President. As a result, the ‘separation of powers’ principle is largely inoperative. Civil society and non-governmental organisations are subjected to repression by the state and are unable to participate adequately in social and political processes. The authorities’ willingness to cooperate with civil society and NGOs is gradually increasing, however.
GIZ has been promoting social and economic reform through the Belarus Promotion Programme since 2003. Under the Programme, which is managed at the local level by the Association for International Education and Exchange (IBB), various non-governmental organisations are currently implementing around 40 German-Belarusian partnership projects.
The Programme and the staff working with local employers currently focus on the following thematic priorities:
- regional development
- energy efficiency and renewable energies
- health and social development
- promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
- capacity building for non-governmental organisations operating at local and transregional level
- advanced training on the media and historical appraisal.