Uladzimir Nyaklayeu

In Europe there remains one prime dictator, heir of the soviet era, who has kept Belarus barred from other nations and under his yoke since 1994. However, voices are being raised, notably in Poland where they find refuge and help. Once Warsaw takes up its European Presidency, look out for those indomitable Belarusian democrats!   

As so often at these long and soporific international conferences, where a myriad representatives gather to speak about their national experiences and share views on political science issues, some of the most interesting ideas can be heard not from the rostrum, but from the floor. The OSCE Human Dimension Seminar on the Role of Political Parties in the Political Process, organized by the Poland-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw between 18th and 20th May 2011, was no exception to the rule. Coffee breaks and dinners proved crucial to the debate. Hosted by the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Welcome Dinner Reception offered plenty of opportunity for making contact, including an encounter with three coordinators from the Solidarity with Democratic Belarus project, run from Warsaw. These young women looked like journalists at first glance, but quickly revealed themselves to be much more than that – they are fully committed to their country. Talking with them later, over a drink, it soon became clear that they have high expectations of Europe and Europeans. Why doesn’t Europe react more severely against Belarus’ President Lukashenko? How can Belarus raise interest among Europeans, and keep the country high in the European agenda? UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has recently accused Belarus of violating the embargo on arms supply to Ivory Coast and Libya. President Lukashenko is collecting some dubious badges of honor: he and 160 of his officials are denied visas, and their assets in Europe have been frozen; his country is the only one in Europe not to be a member of the Council of Europe. The EU has to live with that, and so do the Belarusians themselves.

From the EU perspective and according to most experts, Belarus is lost. European attempts to change the internal situation in Belarus, both by political pressure and constraints such as entry bans for Belarusian officials, as well as financial incentives and offers of cooperation, have been exhausted. President Alexander Lukashenko is not listening anymore. Earlier European hopes to achieve results in Belarus have completely vanished. There is no longer a question of starting a high-level EU-Belarus political dialogue, of establishing an EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue, or of intensifying the technical cooperation. No one in Brussels expects further Belarusian participation in the Eastern Partnership. “Building mutual understanding and creating opportunities to address issues of concern”, as the EU declares on its page on Belarus, is only wishful thinking. President Lukashenko has renounced any serious efforts towards the EU. He seems to have chosen a sovereign isolation, but is unable to cope without Russia’s support –and its blackmail. It is a dangerous path that Lukashenko is treading. Harsh repression against the opposing intellectual figures –who were ready for dialogue– can only provoke further radicalization of the opposition, leading to risk of bloodshed potentially far more extreme than in December 2010. This political course is fast driving Belarus towards Russia, as a last option, but one which is also a direct threat to national sovereignty... Belarus has to be saved from itself.

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by Laurent Vinatier

(Photo: Uladzimir Nyaklayeu)