EU Belarus Policy: The Toothless Tiger Stratergy

The European Union looks like as a toothless tiger to Belarus authorities. It is large, makes a lot of noise but can't really do anything. Yesterday the European Parliament adopted yet another declaration condemning human rights violations in Belarus. The European Parliament's resolutions on Belarus seem to be based on the same template. First, the narrative correctly points out what is wrong in Belarus and then it goes on with the "carrots and sticks" part. The yesterday's resolution was not exception. First, the Parliament condemned measures taken against the Union of Poles, political activists Andrei Bandarenko and Tatsiana Shaputska and prisoners of conscience such as Ivan Mikhailau and Aristyom Dubski. Then followed the "carrots and sticks" part.

The "sticks" part included a threat that "further violations of human rights and the rule of law in Belarus may lead to the revision of the EU's position towards Belarus, including reimposition of the sanctions". The "carrots" were better described - the European Parliament underlines that the EU dialogue with Belarus can be mutually beneficial and believes that Belarus can be supported in obtaining maximum benefits from the Eastern Partnership, in particular in the most effective use of funds allocated under this programme to infrastructure, energy and social projects and by application of other EU instruments and policies, provided the Belarusian authorities commit themselves to real changes in the area of freedoms, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, and in particular the rights of national minorities.

The "maximum benefits" part would make the regime in Minsk smile. Today's Belarus rulers already enjoy benefits unthinkable in a democracy. They are totally unaccountable to the voters, can remain in power for decades and still enjoy the benefits of Western civilization, such as skiing in Switzerland. Why would any dictator trade it for democracy which in the best-case scenario will leave them only with skiing in Switzerland?

The Belarus authorities understand that no serious sanctions from the European Union will follow. There are three reasons for that. First, Europe does not want to surrender Belarus to Russia. Second, Europe depends on oil and gas pipelines which go via Belarus. And, finally, blunt economic sanctions simply do not work. Are the European resolutions worth the nice glossy paper on which they were printed or they simply make the regime laugh? Repeating the same things over and over will not persuade the Belarus authorities. It is time for the European Parliament to understand that democracy will not come to Belarus because of the good will of its current rules.

Only civil society can bring democracy to Belarus. Instead of promising "maximum benefits" to the authorities, the EU should start providing "maximum benefits" to Belarus civil society now. Moral support is not enough. Europe should increase its financial support of the civil society coupled with effective supervision mechanisms. TV and radio broadcasts to the territory of Belarus and helping bright Belarusians return to their country should be the central part of such support. Poland now bears the main burden of supporting the independent Belstat channel and a number of other civil society initiatives. This could be the reasons why Belarus authorities put pressure on the Union of Poles in Belarus. The European Union should support Poland and do something more than self-righteous noises. Read the full text of the European Parliament Resolution here.

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