Speech by Antonella Valmorbida

Warsaw, 14 June 2013

Dear participants, colleagues from NGOs, dear representatives of associations,

I am very pleased to open these two working days of the Communication Platform of NGOs operating in Belarus. This time let me make this speech in Russian to demonstrate the result of hours devoted to learning Russian during last month and years!! Thank you in advance for your patience. However, it is a pleasure for me at least to try to make it!

I represent here the President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, Mr Jean-Marie Heydt, who cannot be here today.

The Conference has always been, and continues to be, a place for debate and strengthening of the voice of civil society with the purpose of the development of democracy and human rights. Since many years, we accept delegations from Belarus in the framework of our plenary sessions in order to get an opportunity to discuss and exchange viewpoints with regard to the implementation of further steps. In many cases the Conference with its political standing, which is shared by all organisations of the Council of Europe, has supported the protection of the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and respect for rights of minorities. Recently the Resolution on political prisoners in Belarus was adopted at the plenary session of the Conference of INGOs. We are aware of those obstacles that many of you face in your activities, and we want to provide here a platform for discussions and strategic planning that as we know the Belarusian civil society can offer. Taking advantage of the meeting, I would be happy to present the Code of good practice for civil participation in the decision-making process elaborated by the Conference. I am one of the co-ordinators who deals with its promotion.

I also represent here an active organisation which deals with the promotion of democracy at local level and civil society participation. I chair the Association of Local Democracy Agencies, which since many years has co-operated with partners from Belarus with regard to the projects, which encouraged development of several local initiatives. Since 2007 we have been working on these issues in Belarus, a country that I have a special link with due to the high respect I have for my colleagues, their persistence, determination, and quality of work. We continue to work actively with our main partner, the Lev Sapegi Foundation, and a partner as well as a member of our organisation, association EuroBelarus.

We are convinced that exactly participation at local level is the key to development of a particular activity, also in your country.

The Association of Local Democracy Agencies is a co-ordinator of a network of representations which encourage democracy and co-operation (between local organisations and civil society) at local level in countries of the enlarged European Union and Neighbourhood policy countries. Currently, with the support of the main Polish partner, the region of Low Silesia, we work on the project to open a local democracy agency in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

I also realise the importance of the European Union and the Eastern Partnership in your activities since Belarus is a part of it, albeit with some difficulties. I was a co-chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, and since two years I have co-ordinated a working group of the same forum on local government and public administration reform. We work on the strengthening of the competence of local government and civil society. This year, on a joint proposal we extensively worked on the issue of administrative decentralisation and local tax system.

I would like to thank the Casimir Pulaski Foundation for providing assistance in this regard.

During these two days I will have an opportunity to work with you, and tomorrow I will chair a round table.

I wish all of you success for the subsequent meetings.

Translated from Russian into English by Liliya Sagun, trainee