Belarus At The United Nations: Resentment, Bragging And Anti-Western Rhetoric

Vladimir Makei at the UN Rostrum

Three weeks ago Belarus Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei presented the country's multilateral initiatives in the general debate of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. The United Nations remains Belarus' preferred tool for promoting its foreign policy initiatives and a source of development assistance.

Makei chose to please mainly Minsk's allies among third-world countries. He made no attempt to capitalise on recent timid advances in relations between Belarus and the West. Instead, resentment, anti-Western rhetoric and unjustified bragging filled his rather bleak statement from the UN rostrum.

UN's Special Place in Belarusian Diplomacy

Belarus, together with Ukraine, became a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 in recognition of these nations' role in defeating Nazism. The Soviet Union thus got three votes in the Organisation.

The permanent mission of Belarus to the UN opened in New York only in 1958. The mission even lacked nominal independence in its diplomatic activities. It was often staffed with diplomats sent from Moscow and all decision-making was made there.

Nevertheless, the mission became a great school of practical diplomacy for many Belarusian civil servants. They formed the core of the foreign ministry's staff when Belarus obtained independence in 1991.

Belarus' Priorities at the 69th Session

Traditionally, Belarus invests a significant amount of human and financial resources into its participation in the annual UN General Assembly sessions. Also, the government used to formally approve the country's priorities at each session drafted by the foreign ministry.

This practise seems to have been abandoned. The priorities for the 69th session are only available as a non-paper at the web site of Belarus' permanent mission to the UN.

The 16-point document pays special attention to the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. Belarus also intends to further prioritise its two key initiatives, the fight against human trafficking and the protection of traditional families. In the field of security, the priority issue is the prohibition of the development and manufacturing of new types of weapons of mass destruction.

Some priorities have been rather oddly formulated and sound more like political statements, i.e. about "international human rights law, which some countries have repeatedly violated through their unilateral activities".

Belarus sees the country-specific resolutions on human rights only as a "tool invoked by some countries to advance their own political and economic interests". As a target of one of such resolutions, Belarus intends to "strongly oppose" them.

Anti-Western Crusade

Belarus' Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei made his statement in the general debate of the 69th UNGA session on 30 September. He spoke in Russian, hastily and unemphatically, before the half-empty UNGA meeting hall.

Makei's statement contained few positive statements or overtures. He preferred to develop the anti-Western rhetoric of a besieged state.

Uladzimir Makei started with a historical reference to the WWI, which he used as an introduction to his condemnation of those "revising the outcome of WWII... or defiling the memory of the fallen heroes".

The minister failed to name such offenders. He also preferred to disregard the fact that Belarus' closest ally, Russia, routinely befriends far-right political forces in Western and Central Europe, whose leaders often honour Nazi collaborators and deny Holocaust.

Faithful to the country's declared UNGA priorities, Makei aligned with those who believe that human rights rhetoric serves only to punish those nations, which rebel against subordinating themselves to the greedy transnational capitalism.

Uladzimir Makei intentionally reminded the General Assembly who the main allies of Belarus were: "Countries like Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela surely feel such pressure much more than others". The minister has clearly taken pride in being in this company of outcasts.

Autocratic Stability and Ukraine

From the UN rostrum, Makei promoted Alexander Lukashenka's vision of a "powerful", strong state meant to protect its citizens from "chaos, lawlessness and impunity". Many UN members will certainly disagree with this vision arguing that the state's strength and power derive from democratic institutions and not a one-man autocratic rule.

The minister asserted that Belarus had been chosen as a "site for addressing acute international crises" namely because the international community considered it to be a "stable and internally coherent state".

Not many experts would agree with this assertion. The international community has certainly appreciated the balanced position of the Belarusian government in the Ukrainian crisis. Belarus indeed has some geographical and logistic advantages, which warranted the choice of Minsk as a venue of the talks on Ukraine. However, it is doubtful that the negotiating parties ever considered Belarus' internal autocratic 'stability' as an advantage when making this choice.

The above passage was the only reference to the conflict around Ukraine in the minister's speech. Makei refrained from assessing the new challenges to the regional and international security even within the constraints of Belarus' position of neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Development Priority and Traditional Family

The foreign minister called the international community to use thematic global partnerships as a tool to implement the post-2015 United Nations development agenda: "Only effective partnerships among states, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector can deliver success in addressing any global problem". Ironically, the Belarusian authorities are reluctant to engage civil society and private sector as equal partners when discussing domestic affairs.

Uladzimir Makei also resented the alleged attempts to force Belarus "to renounce the values of a traditional family, and recognise instead the diversity of this institution’s forms". Again, he sees the liberal policies on family issues only as another capitalist plot: "This may be just another way to subdue the resisters to the capital by turning them into soulless slaves".

The strengthening of traditional family has become Belarus' top priority initiative within the UN. Regrettably, the Belarusian authorities have failed to provide more clues about their understanding of this term. It is not clear whether it goes beyond the rejection of the same-sex marriages and adoption of children by homosexual families.

In 2013, Belarus ranked No. 2 in the world in terms of the divorce rate. BelTA once quoted Professor Katsiaryna Antsipava saying that this divorce rate "signalled the ill-being of the family institution in the country". So much for Makei's offer to share Belarus' advances in this sphere with others.

Belarus' Prospects in the UN

Belarus has probably begun losing momentum in its UN-centered multilateral efforts. It becomes difficult to continue to capitalise on the successful initiative on combatting the human trafficking as it is becoming another institutionalised UN issue.

The initiative on traditional family has failed to gather proper international support. It is vague and non-priority for most countries if not directly unacceptable. Also, it seems unwise for the Belarusian authorities to emphasise their pariah status just to show off before the third-world allies.

Igar Gubarevich is a senior analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre in Minsk. For a number of years he has been working in various diplomatic positions at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

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