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A Duty to Listen to Civil Society Voices

October 27, 2022 by BSC

BCSP Director Igor Bandovic highlighted the need for honest conversations, suggesting that Serbia can no longer remain Balkan-centric. Therefore, the inaugural Belgrade Security Conference (BSC) is focusing on the threat of authoritarianism in the wider context of Europe.  

“Authoritarianism is the same in all parts of the world. It can never be good and in its final stage, it can lead to war and suffering,”, pointed Bandovic. 

Srdjan Cvijic, President of the BCSP International Advisory Committee, emphasized the damaging impact of the anti-Western rhetoric that dominates the Serbian media ecosystem. Cvijic suggested that the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign has “poisoned public opinion,” He highlighted the importance of giving a platform to alternative voices.  

“The unofficial BSC motto is duty to listen to the other side”, concluded Cvijic.  

Oleksandra Matviychuk, Head of the Centre for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, began by highlighting that over 21,000 episodes of war crimes have been documented in Ukraine thus far. Matviychuk contended that the whole international system of peace and security has ultimately failed to stop Russian aggression on Ukraine. She suggested that only civil society can resist the Russian threat to human rights. This is not something that can be facilitated by diplomats and lawyers. 

“Civil society voices need much more support,” she stated. 

Uladzimir Vialchkin, representing the Human Rights Centre Viasna in Belarus, also addressed the importance of civil society organisations in safeguarding human rights and freedom of speech. He spoke of over 11,000 criminal cases opened against civil activists in Belarus, with lengthy prison sentence for many of those involved. Viachkin concluded that strong and stable democracy is necessary for a strong and flourishing civil society.  

Anastasia Garina, Executive Director at the Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre in Russia, suggested the current conflict marks a “dark page” in Russia. This era has not come unexpectedly. Garina contended that “every day, step by step, in every field” basic freedoms have been eroded, and freedom of speech has slowly disappeared.  Garina concluded that people have not paid sufficient attention to the gradual attrition of human rights and freedom of speech.