What is the Minsk Forum?
The Minsk Forum was founded in November 1997 by Rainer Lindner (SWP) and Leanid Zaika (Centre "Strategy"), the year when the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE largely froze their official contacts with Belarus. In doing so, European organisations responded to the controversial constitutional referendum initiated by President Aliaksandr Lukashenka in 1996, which abolished the separation of powers in Belarus to a great extent.
Against this background, the international conference in Minsk helped to maintain political and civil society contacts between Belarus and Germany and the EU, even in a difficult political situation. It also provided a platform for exchange between different actors in Belarus – non-governmental organizations, government and opposition. With the foundation of the German-Belarusian Society (dbg) in 1999, the Minsk Forum became the central project of the dbg.
Over the years, this dialogue event has become an important international forum for Belarus. High-ranking politicians and diplomats, experts and academics, representatives of civil society and business from Belarus, Germany and other EU countries participate in the Minsk Forum every year. The Forum gathers from 200 to over 300 guests in Minsk, where they exchange views on current developments in Belarus and the EU.
Between 2011 and 2015, the Minsk Forum was not held as an annual event. Therewith the board of the dbg responded to the deteriorating relations between Belarus and the EU and Germany as the consequence of the Belarusian presidential elections of 2010. In order to further maintain dialogue formats, the dbg initiated the “Minsk Forum Process”, which enabled events outside and within Belarus. For example, two international conferences in Vilnius und in Minsk were held in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania. In 2016, the Minsk Forum returned to Minsk.
In 2017, the Minsk Forum celebrated its 20th anniversary – the first official bilateral visit by a German Foreign Minister to Belarus has been an important break for the past 22 years. The participation of the Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Uladzimir Makei, at the Minsk Forum XV was a high appreciation of the work of the dbg and the Minsk Forum for 20 years.
Photo: dbg / Kate Ignashevich, 2017