«RADA»: Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM

Survivors
Коллаж: Алиса Гончар / Collage by Alisa Hanchar

The Belarusian National Youth Council «RADA» is part of the movement of young citizens defending their interests. Earlier, Reform.news had already spoken with a representative of the organization as part of the special project «Liquidation«. Two years later, we continue the conversation with the communication secretary of «RADA», Yekaterina Bunina, about Belarusian youth, activism, and the future of the country.

«RADA» as a voluntary association of organizations and initiatives emerged in 1992 to engage in representation, promotion, and protection of youth interests. As a result of the repressive policies of the authorities, «RADA» lost its official registration twice – in 2006 and 2021. The organization represents Belarus in the European Youth Forum.

«RADA» advocates for youth rights and conducts educational programs aimed at nurturing a new generation of civic leaders. Participation in the National Youth Council often serves as a starting point for a political career. Many representatives of national councils subsequently realize their potential in European youth structures and further in mainstream politics.

«Some stories are so wild that Europeans can’t imagine they could happen»

Ekaterina explains that the council currently unites 39 organizations and initiatives in Belarus. It includes organizations that advocate for human rights, LGBTQ+, represent student interests, support inclusive initiatives, and many other areas in the youth sector.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Екатерина Бунина. Фото: Алиса Гончар / Ekaterina Bunina. Photo by Alisa Hanchar

In the European Youth Forum, «RADA» initiates the adoption of resolutions, which serve as a key mechanism for making collective decisions on various issues. Despite their declarative nature, these documents can be a tool to influence the public agenda in Europe and increase awareness of the situation in Belarus. Resolutions play an important role in fostering cooperation between Belarusian and European youth. Each resolution focuses on a specific theme. For example, a resolution on the issue of the death penalty in Belarus was recently put forward. The latest resolution, adopted in 2023, is dedicated to young political prisoners. According to «RADA», about 40% of political prisoners are young people under 35 years old.

– It is important for us to highlight this issue. We understand that this resolution will not lead to the release of political prisoners. However, organizations will continue to bring this information to their governments, and Belarusians will remain on the agenda», says Ekaterina Bunina.

Discussions from the European Youth Forum extend further into European structures and national parliaments:

– We continue to convey information about what is happening in Belarus. Some stories are so wild that Europeans can’t imagine they could happen.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Фото: Алиса Гончар / Photo by Alisa Hanchar

After the first liquidation of «RADA» in 2006, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU) applied to participate in the European Youth Forum. There was a debate about who should represent the interests of Belarusian youth – an officially registered organization with a large number of members, or «RADA» – without registration and with numerous legal problems. At that time, the forum decided that the voice of Belarusian youth would remain with the «RADA» council.

– An interesting fact: BRYU corresponded with «RADA» during the period when the organization was still registered. The question was about the possible accession of BRYU to «RADA», but the organizations could not agree. Soon, the refusal to admit BRYU to its ranks became one of the reasons for depriving «RADA» of registration.

The council continued to function unofficially, acting on behalf of the unregistered organization «YARADA». In 2019, the «RADA» team was renewed. It was during that period that the concept of the Strategy for the Development of State Youth Policy in the Republic of Belarus until 2030 was being developed, and «RADA» began a dialogue with the authorities on behalf of the registered institution. Although the council operated unofficially, many authorities were willing to engage, claims Ekaterina. However, after the events of 2020, «RADA» decided to cease cooperation with government institutions.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Екатерина Бунина. Фото: Алиса Гончар / Ekaterina Bunina. Photo by Alisa Hanchar

Education as a Means of Engagement

According to Ekaterina, the work of «RADA» is aimed at supporting youth, regardless of their location – inside or outside Belarus. The team mainly focuses on educational programs and facilitating the implementation of initiatives – helping participants establish contacts, organizing platforms for exchanging experiences:

– Sometimes we work directly, but mostly we interact with youth through the development of other organizations.

The most public direction of «RADA’s» work is education in online and offline formats. Online programs provide one of the few opportunities for direct interaction with Belarusian youth inside the country: about a third of their participants are in Belarus. Ekaterina believes that training activists is an investment in the future, a contribution to shaping the New Belarus.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Екатерина Бунина. Фото: Алиса Гончар / Ekaterina Bunina. Photo by Alisa Hanchar

– This is our attempt to reach out to them [Belarusians in Belarus]. Especially now, when there are so many restrictions. Our programs are an opportunity to show how things should and can be. To provide new skills now that will be useful for Belarusian society in the future.

Right now, our flagship program for activists called «First Academy» is underway. It aims to develop skills in project management, resilience, and crisis management. Participants learn to find the necessary resources for implementing their projects and promote their activities.

Over the past four years, around 500 people have gone through educational programs offered by «RADA». Its graduates have made a mark both in Belarus and beyond its borders.

Ekaterina mentions that the next educational program will be conducted jointly with Ukrainian partners and will focus on conflict management and effective team communication. In her opinion, this topic is very relevant now:

– Conflict should not lead to you falling apart, or becoming enemies with a colleague just because someone left a comment or disagrees with your position.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Фото: Алиса Гончар / Photo by Alisa Hanchar

Also this year, for the third time, RADAvisual will take place – a thematic course for activists on creating visual content and designing social media. Often, teams simply do not have the resources for a separate social media specialist, and the course helps them acquire a basic set of skills:

– Right now, what grabs your attention is the image. Of course, if there’s nothing behind it, that’s bad. But even if you have very useful material, without quality visuals, no one will open it.

In addition, «RADA» conducts educational projects. One of the latest ones is dedicated to the Belarusian passport:

– In countries with a normal legal system, the passport guarantees your rights and freedoms. We decided to demonstrate what the Belarusian passport actually provides. As a result, we compiled a collection of repressions and stories related to youth: ‘Visa to Okrestino’, ‘Journey to the Detention Center’, and so on. The document is available in Belarusian and English.

Like many Belarusian organizations, the council has to adjust its communication with the audience:

– Under each publication and Google form, we always indicate that the website and social media are recognized as extremist materials. Not everyone reminds people of this so often. It’s important for us that people know exactly who they’re dealing with.

To protect participants of educational programs, a verification procedure has been introduced: even if a person is interested and motivated but unknown to the organization, the safety of other participants is a priority.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Екатерина Бунина. Фото: Алиса Гончар / Ekaterina Bunina. Photo by Alisa Hanchar

«Together We Are Stronger»

«RADA» believes it’s important to establish a feedback process within the country because the problems there are different. Being outside of Belarus, the organization can more freely discuss the needs of young people at the international level, which «RADA» has been doing for the past four years.

To maintain contact with its community, the «RADA» team strives to maintain openness and sincerity in communication. Each member of the Secretariat of «RADA» has their own story:

– I came for new emotions and impressions. I was on probation after studying, worked in a project firm. I didn’t like it very much. Young specialists, especially girls, often face discrimination when they are not taken seriously and are asked if they will go on maternity leave during these two years of probation. And I was looking for something where I would be interested, where I could realize myself. I volunteered in environmental organizations.

At the school of eco-activists, I met different guys, got involved, and at some point ended up at the ‘Volunteer Fest’. It was organized by ‘RADA’ in the ‘Corpus’ in 2018. I followed their social media, and within a year, I was part of the team organizing the second ‘Volunteer Fest’. It was pretty banal — I just responded to a vacancy, and we clicked. It’s every volunteer’s dream when you get paid for what you did before out of the goodness of your heart.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Екатерина Бунина. Фото: Алиса Гончар / Ekaterina Bunina. Photo by Alisa Hanchar

Ekaterina is 30 years old and considers herself part of the youth, although she admits that sometimes we live with different problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), youth encompasses the age group up to 44 years old. Officially in Belarus, youth are recognized as individuals aged 14 to 31. From «RADA’s» perspective, one can consider themselves youth until the age of 35.

– Sometimes we receive comments: ‘Why can’t I participate if I’m over 35?’ The answer is: you can! Of course, our priority and focus are on youth, but with good justification and motivation, we can invite older individuals to participate.

Every year, elections are held in the «RADA» Council. The Council is a kind of legislative body, while the Secretariat is the executive. These are different independent branches of power. Thirty-nine organizations raise issues concerning their needs and those of youth, setting a common development agenda. The Council then transfers tasks to the Secretariat, which is responsible for their implementation — finding projects and partners. The Council consists of six people, while there are seven in the Secretariat, although in 2019 there were only three.

– I’ll brag a bit: in 2020, we had 27 organizations, and now we have 39. And this is after the crisis! I think many have come to the understanding that together we are stronger.

"RADA": Yekaterina Bunina on Belarusian Youth, International Solidarity, and the BRSM
Екатерина Бунина. Фото: Алиса Гончар / Ekaterina Bunina. Photo by Alisa Hanchar

Recently, there has been an increased need to establish partnerships with European structures. Participation in the «RADA» council provides an opportunity to advance ideas further, as the organization has sustainable contacts and connections. International partners trust «RADA», continuing to support the organization both after the events of 2006 and after 2020.

The Chair of the «RADA» Council, Margo Vorikhova, is 22 years old. She took over the council in the fall of 2020, during the most crisis period, and has been effectively managing her tasks ever since. Currently, Margo serves as a youth policy advisor in Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s Office. She also represents Belarus in the Council of Europe’s Contact Group and in the Consultative Group with the European Union. These organizations create recommendations for policymakers and discuss opportunities for future cooperation with Belarusian youth organizations, such as offering seminars to enhance youth participation in political processes.

When the question asked how «RADA» differs from the BRSM, Ekaterina Bunina immediately responds:

– Democracy. Our work is based on the needs of youth. We do not coerce.

Text: Herman Zabaronak. Photo: Alisa Hanchar

The special project «Survivors» documents the state of Belarusian civil society organizations (CSOs) in the year 2024.

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