Lukashenka Insults Barroso Protesting Against His Isolation
Recent personal insults addressed to the EU Commission’s top official José Manuel Barroso and Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovich demonstrate that the policy of personal isolation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka already has an effect on him, at least psychological. However, to make this policy truly effective, it is important to be consistent in isolating Lukashenka personally while maintaining contacts with high-rank Belarusian bureaucrats not directly implicated in human rights abuses.
Earlier this week commenting on the fact that he was absent at the official commemoration ceremony of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, Alyaksandr Lukashenka burst out with a word assault on Barroso. He literally said as follows:
On the subject of bastards like Barroso and others – who is Barroso anyway? There was a Barroso in Portugal. But they kicked him out and put him to work in the European Commission. The last thing I want to know about European officials is who said this or that. There are thousands of them. They’re all crooks. So I don’t want to talk about any Barrosos or other bastards.
The European Commission’s reaction to these insulting comments was polite but quite sarcastic. According to an unnamed source in the European Commission, they do not recognize Lukashenka as a democratically elected president of Belarus, and the European Commission does not comment on statements by ordinary individuals.
This situation needs to be put in context. On 19 April the Ukrainian capital hosted the Nuclear Safety Summit and Chernobyl Pledging Conference. Both Lukashenka and Barroso were initially on the organizers’ list of the invitees. But Barroso put out a condition for his participation: Lukashenka should not be there. And as a result, Lukashenka was absent at the summit.
sort of oral warfare has become a usual thing in the Belarusian politics. However, this time it is of interest not only for media. It also gives us certain ‘food for thought’ in the context of the EU’s Belarus policy.
It has been suggested before to personally isolate Lukashenka fallowing the 2010 falsified presidential elections and rapid deterioration of situation with human rights in Belarus. Barroso’s unwillingness to sit at the same table with the ‘last European dictator’ looks like a move in that direction. And it immediately produced an expected effect – causing Lukashenka considerable psychological discomfort demonstrated by his insults. But this is only a tiny element of the isolation strategy.
This isolation should be consistent and comprehensive if the EU policy makers want not just another media occasion and yet another battle of words. As proposed, one of the mechanisms of Lukashenka’s personal isolation should be lowering the level of diplomatic presence in Minsk from ambassadorial to charge de’affaires. This way, the EU diplomats will not have to present credentials to the president they see as illegitimate and shake hands with him. But the EU Member States have so far seemed not to share this logic.
Just a few weeks ago the new Polish Ambassador Leszek Szerepka officially presented his credentials to Alyaksandr Lukashenka. All the state TV channels showed the ceremony at prime time. That ceremony seriously undermined all discussions about Lukashenka’s external illegitimacy in the eyes of Belarusian people and bureaucrats. It does not really make sense to send an extraordinary and plenipotentiary representative of the President of Poland to the President of Belarus if Poland does not recognize that particular person as president. The Belarusians also saw Lukashenka reprimanding and mentoring the new ambassador about Poland’s policy towards Belarus, which in the eyes of common people is proof of the former’s ideological victory over all Western enemies.
Summing it up, even fragmented isolation of Lukashenka’s personality does have an effect. But this effect will remain insignificant for the Belarusian society and bureaucrats and limited to Lukashenka’s psychological discomfort without a consistent and fully-fledged strategy of his personal isolation.
Yauheni Preiherman is Policy Director at the Discussion and Analytical Society “Liberal Club” in Minsk