International Herald Tribune: An Artful Balancing Act

International Herald Tribune published an article on how Belarusian authorities try to balance between Russia and the European Union. The article agrees that the messages Minsk has been sending over the last few months are mixed. On the one hand, there are some signs of liberalization such as registering one opposition movement or a few economic reforms. On the other hand, there are new political prisoners and police continues to use force to break up small opposition demonstrations. The article also notes a difference between European and American approaches towards Belarus:

The United States, like the EU, supports the principle of engagement. However, its relations with Minsk are frostier: Most of its diplomats were expelled last year and it voted against the IMF loan. And it thinks the EU is sometimes too soft. European diplomats believe that a group of "modernizers" around Makay is serious about bringing Belarus in from the cold. Some admit that the focus on engagement could lead the EU to be indulgent on human rights. But they are adamant that Belarus cannot join the Eastern Partnership if it has political prisoners.

Read the full text of the article at IHT.com. Another piece published in IHT today was an interview with Sergey Martynov, Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs. He argues that there are three misconceptions about Belarus:

- That in liberalizing our economic and political systems, Belarussians are responding to Western pressure. - That Belarus faces a choice of friendship between Russia and the West. - That Belarus exists in some kind of time warp, as a miniature Soviet Union perpetuating Soviet ideals and objectives.

For those unfamiliar with the real state of things in Belarus, the Minister's arguments may sound persuasive. For those, familiar with what is going on in Belarus, the conclusions may seem right, but not the arguments. First, the recent efforts of Belarus to liberalize are attributable to a larger extent to severe economic crises in Belarus rather than to the Western pressure. Second, no one in the West has ever seriously claimed that befriending the EU requires being hostile to Russia. And, finally, it is true the ideals and objectives of today's Belarus are not Soviet. Although there are mandatory ideology classes taught in schools, there are no ideals. The only real objective and ideal of the current political leadership in Belarus is remaining in power for as long as possible. And they know that either the West or Russia will be happy to buy their promises. Even when those promises are empty. Read the full text of Martynov's interview at IHT.com.

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