Situation with Democracy in Belarus is a Humanitarian Disaster

In yesterday’s edition of Süddeutsche Zeitung, Jörg Forbrig, Expert for Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund’s office in Berlin, urges the EU to change the course of action vis-à-vis the Belarusian regime. On page two of the daily, he makes concrete proposals for the future steps in dealing with Belarus and underlines that the situation of the democratic movement in the country is a “humanitarian disaster”.

According to him, Europe’s relations with Belarus have been reduced to smithereens after Lukashenka has crushed the demonstrations after the flawed elections on December 19th. Since that day, a wave of terror is rolling through the country. Mr Forbrig writes that this is a black chapter for Europe as a soft power. Shock and disappointment seized many of those who fought for a rapprochement to Belarus and risked political capital and personal credibility by doing so.

Mr Forbrig regrets that the Foreign Minister of Poland, Sweden, Germany and Czech Republic in their common open letter did not answer the question what the EU is planning to do now. He suggests that it is obvious that a complete reversal of the existing policy is needed.

Mr Forbrig makes concrete proposals how the EU should proceed in the near future. According to him, the primary task of the EU is to help those Belarusian democrats that are in jail, have been tortured or are likely to lose their jobs or be expelled from university:

Things are not going to change unless the EU freezes its official relations with Belarus. Any kind of close cooperation, the participation in EU projects, credits and economic assistance should not exist as long as there are political prisoners in Belarus.

Instead, travel bans for leading Belarusian politicians should be renewed and extended to everybody who is responsible for the manipulation of elections and violence. Lukashenka should be on the list as well as the chairpersons of national and regional election commissions, directors of state media, commanders of the police, KGB interrogators and other members of the repressive apparatus.

At the same time, the EU must help the Belarusian population. A liberalisation of the visa regime, by abolishing visas or cancelling the visa fees, will convince the Belarusians that Europe is welcoming them and will be an expression of the EU’s solidarity with them. Negotiations for those steps have already started.

If there is no consensus for them in the EU, Germany should follow Poland, writes Mr Forbrig. The country has issued a travel ban for Belarusian politicians and issues national visa for Belarusians for free.

The expert also points out that it is also very important to support the Belarusian civil society. The EU should recognize the civil society as a legitimate voice of the country and include it into any dialogue with Belarus.

As it is clear that there will be no democratisation of the country under Lukashenka, it will be necessary to exert long-term pressure on the regime. According to him, the EU should recall its roll as the first export partner of the country, as exports to Europe are the most important source of income for the regime.

Moreover, Mr Forbrig underlines the importance of a common policy of the EU and the USA and a demand to Russia that the Partnership of modernisation must also include common neighbours.

What is needed in the short and in the long run is a definite new positioning of Europe. If the EU were committed to a complete change of policy, the Bloody Sunday of December 2010 could be the beginning of the end of the tyrannical reign of Alexander Lukashenka.

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