Belarus’ future depends on European unity

Its civil society needs proper European diplomacy

, by Chris Powers , Katarzyna Korolko

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Belarus' future depends on European unity

The Polish community constitutes a significant minority in Belarus (around 400000 people). Thanks to its strong organisation, and with the support of Polish political leaders, it has the means to be able to support democratic opposition in Belarus. This is why the Organisation of Poles in Belarus is accused by President Lukashenko of wanting to “foment a new revolution, remote controlled by Washington.”

The Poles resist despite repression, but we should bear in mind that this does not only concern Belarus’ minorities. These actions fall within the context of a campaign to destroy the civil society of this country. Essentially, anyone opposing the totalitarian power is notoriously persecuted. In reality, the right of assembly and to hold political opinions, such as freedom of expression and information does not exist. These democratic rules have been replaced by censorship, persecution, and prison sentences.

Repression has become a part of daily life, the national economy is under the strict control of the presidential administration. But Alexander Lukashenko does not have complete free reign. The former Russian republic is systematically threatened by Moscow. Vladimir Putin continues to control the situation in Belarus, rudely demonstrated by the imposition on Belarus of high gas prices that risk destablising its last remaining satellite on the border of the European Union.

Belarus is not Ukraine (anymore)

The group of countries which form the European Union are agreed in condemning the violation of human rights in Belarus. However, it is evident that civil society in Belarus is not yet developed enough to repeat the Ukrainian scenario. It is also clear that it is incapable of opposing the oppressing power on its own. It needs Europe. We need Belarus. Europe’s strength lies in its unity.

The European Union can only be effective as soon as there is no dissent among its members. Why then have we not yet took action together ? Why are the European heads of state not refusing to cooperate with Vladimir Putin? Is it really better to sacrifice our common values in the name of economic self-interest?

Historical experience has clearly shown that it is difficult to gain freedom from totalitarianism without help from other nations. The alliance of Western countries held back Hitler during the Second World War. The Marshall Plan in 1947 guaranteed the independence of several nations against Moscow. At the time of Solidarnosc(Solidarity) in Poland, French support significantly reinforced the democratic opposition and it has become one of the factors that helped make possible the change of regime.

Belarusian civil society needs a united Europe

However, the current situation does not resemble those of past historical events. Although the Parliament is everyday calling for the adoption of resolutions in favour of Belarus’ democratisation, the MEPs stress that this is often in disagreement with the European Commission on the strategy concerning the country. The Parliamentary assembly of the OSCEis also criticised for having treated the Belarusian ‘parliament’ controlled by Lukashenko as a ‘normal’ partner.

Europe’s position against the violation of human rights in Belarus should be well-defined, united, and pressing. Its involvement in helping to create independent media outlets would be a good starting point. If we decide to impose sanctions against Belarus, these measures should not hurt the citizens but rather the elites who have benefited from the authoritarian regime. Perhaps paradoxically, it is also important to sustain a dialogue with President Lukashenko. This is the only way to change the system and avoid a war between ‘brothers’ among Belarusians.

Political unity, a condition for effective diplomacy

If we take take the Polish example, in 1985, during the visit of Wojciech Jaruzelski (one of the main representatives of the Communist regime in eastern Europe) to Paris, François Mitterrand said that “the best way to proceed is through discussing, and proposing.”

Four years later, Poland held its first free elections since the Second World War. The country has opened a new chapter on its history as a sovereign, democratic country.

We Europeans, we want the same thing for Belarus.

Illustration : Belarus in Europe, map from Wikicommons

Source :
 “Energie: L’Europe doit - elle craindre la Russie ?” by Thomas Gomart , La tribune, 16 January 2007
 “Ukraine, Biélorussie et Moldavie: entre l’Union élargie et la Russie” by Catcherine Guicherd, , Foreign Affairs, 3/2002

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