European Foreign Ministers: Lukashenko the Loser
Foreign ministers of Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland published a strongly worded opinion in the New York Times. According to them, Europe has not seen in years anything like what happened in Minsk on bloody Sunday of 19 December 2010. Below is the full text of their statement:
Lukashenko the Loser
There can be no business-as-usual between the European Union and Belarus’ president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, after what has happened since the presidential election in Belarus last Sunday.
In recent months, the hope grew that his words could be taken seriously. He promised to invite international observers to the election, and he delivered on the promise. He talked about giving the opposition some space during the election campaign, and there were some improvements.
The E.U. responded by suspending sanctions and with a generous offer of conditional political dialogue, economic cooperation and the possibility of financial assistance. It would have been in the interests of both Europe and the people of Belarus to continue.
Then everything changed.
Mr. Lukashenko probably understood that he would not get the required 50 percent of the votes needed to avoid a humiliating second round against a single opposition candidate. All independent exit polls gave him significantly less than this. While the voting proceeded in an orderly fashion, the counting of the votes turned into a charade. The report of the independent observers assessed the counting as “bad” or “very bad” in nearly half the polling stations they could observe, and it is not unreasonable to assume that it was even worse in the others.
It was obvious that there were orders not to count the votes, but to deliver a predetermined result. There is no way to know what the real result of the election was. The exit polls give interesting indications, but no more. What is abundantly clear is that the announced result has no democratic legitimacy whatsoever.
But worse was to follow.
Opposition candidates were beaten, dragged away and detained. Hundreds of campaign workers were also rounded up and taken to prison. Summary trials produced sentences without any basis in facts. Political prisoners have become the new reality. Repression is the stated policy.
Europe has not seen anything like this in years. The combination of vote rigging and outright repression makes what Slobodan Milosevic tried to do in Serbia in 2000 pale in comparison. What we have seen brings back memories of the introduction of martial law in Poland in 1981.
Where will this end? The forces of repression might carry the day, but the wounds in society will not heal, and a siege regime will clearly not survive forever. Prospects of money from the West to save a deteriorating economic situation have in all probability gone up in smoke. Investors will be wary of a country that has so spectacularly shown its contempt for the law.
The European Union is founded on values of human rights, democracy and the rule of the law. It will not stand indifferent to gross violations of these values in its own part of the world.
Continued positive engagement with Mr. Lukashenko at the moment seems to be a waste of time and money. He has made his choice — and it is a choice against everything the European Union stands for.
But there are many in Belarus who know that his clock is ticking — and are discreetly preparing for a better future.
Our many conversations with representatives of different parts of Belarus society have convinced us that the country wants to be part of a free and prosperous Europe. We must now deepen our engagement with the democrats of Belarus and those inside the government who disapprove of the fateful turn their country has taken. They must not be abandoned or betrayed as their country enters what might be a new dark era.
The best test of our own values is what we do on behalf of the powerless. Europe must not be mute.
Carl Bildt, Karel Schwarzenberg and Radoslaw Sikorski and Guido Westerwelle are the foreign ministers, respectively, of Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany.
A Pyrrhic Victory of Lukashenka
Bloody clashes in Minsk last Sunday were unprecedentedly shocking for many people even not interested in politics. And perhaps for the first time one can hear common people here in Belarus condemning police and authorities for beatings and maiming of undoubtedly innocent citizens, some of them were just young girls. While closely watching Belarusian politics since 1995, I cannot remember any other elections which caused such a massive rage against the regime.
There are so many aspects in which the Belarusian government has gone too far in its handling of the recent elections. The fraud was so evident and cynical that it was not news. However, the protests after the elections were unexpectedly large-scale. It means that this time the falsifications really embarrassed more people, that is the first defeat of the regime, even if not yet admitted by Lukashenka. And once again he may have won the elections in the second round, but preferred to help himself in winning it in the first round with fantastically unbelievable results.
That was his key mistake, since he possibly has taken more than he can digest during the next five years. Though quite numerous for Belarusian circumstances, the after-voting rally had been poorly organized by the opposition. The leaders failed to protect the event from provocations. However, it was truly difficult for the opposition to prevent provocations planned in advance. The Sunday's rally could end up peacefully with some tents installed in Minsk city center. The whole story could have silently finished in a few days due to cold weather and weakness of organized opposition.
Yet the regime's behavior more resembled maniac hatred than any reasonable conduct. The wide scale provocations which culminated in a mock-siege of the Government House were used as a pretext to launch attacks on the crowd. The films of the siege initially put up on the Interior Ministry website as a proof of 'opposition riots' have now been taken away since they apparently disclosed many suspicious details of the 'siege' pointing out possibility of provocation. The Belarusian Internet is now full of numerous videos and photographs exposing 'opposition militants' as police and KGB agents. The final and most dangerous accord was when the police forces have run amok and just berserked the people on the Independence Square. Broken legs, arms or teeth beaten away were not results of clashes. There were no serious clashes with the police. Just one-sided attacks by the regime forces.
The protesters were arrested even if immobilized, with broken limps or heads. Moreover, many – among them severely injured presidential candidate Uladzimir Niakliajeu – were taken away from their hospital beds despite their apparent incapacitation and need for medical aid. The cruelty became too apparent for the whole country, since no one could have explained which danger to the police could have posed young and unarmed girls or well-known scholars and intellectuals. Around 700 arrested, though there are reasons to suspect higher numbers. All major president candidates are now in the KGB prison. In addition, there is information, yet to be proved, about possible fatal cases on the Square. The real outcome of the elections for Lukashenka seems to be very bad.
Although the German Radio noted, that “only relatively small part of the population strives for political changes”, the last election showed the Belarusians that the problem with Lukashenka and his regime is not his political line, but his moral stance and inhuman cruelty. To lie, injure and incarcerate innocent citizens is different from playing politics. It is the red line which he crossed. Such details, of course, are nothing to big politics as some European officials understand it. Speaking to the Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle called detainment of the people participating in Minsk demonstration “unacceptable”, yet added that Brussels considers it necessary to go ahead with engaging Belarus into all-Europe processes.
The EU Observer quoted its diplomatic contact, as saying, "you've seen the Ashton line – it means we are going to do nothing. If there had been 100,000 people on the street or some corpses in the square then it might have been different." Will that help the Belarusian president? Or in some years, after regime change in Belarus these EU statements will be just a curious footnote, like the 'Chicken Kiev' speech made in 1991 by the US President George H.W. Bush cautioning Ukrainians against "suicidal nationalism". Some months later that year, Ukrainians voted to quit the Soviet Union. In any event, the Bloody Sunday in Minsk was the first time Belarusians have beaten other Belarusians so openly and so cruelly.
And not only police and KGB demonstrated that 'ends justify means'. The hospitals were willing to deny people medical care, the hotels near the Square reportedly cooperated with police in crushing the protests. The Belarusian politics get its new, more violent dimension. Violence happened earlier – as with disappearances in 1999-2000 – yet it was very much limited to certain segment of society. Others were not aware of it, or pretended to be. This time it is wide-scale and visible. SB