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EU weakness legitimizes Lukashenka

, by Åsa Gunvén

Last week a positive spirited Solana visited Belarus and Lukaschenka, leaving complaints and demands on the side. Isolation has for sure never been a good recipe to cure an autocracy but I wonder if Solana’s uncritical handshaking with Europe’s last dictatorship is the right alternative?

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In 2006 the EU made 12 proposals to the Belarusian authorities concerning normalization of relations. This included democratic elections, freedom of information and press, an end to political harassment and imprisonment, legalization of civil society and ending its repression, proper judicial system based on rule of law, rights of unions, minorities and abolition of the death penalty. This list was created not only for teasing Lukashenka but as a support to the suppressed citizens living under his dictatorship. It was not in order to isolate Belarus, but for relations to be build under a clear understanding of the value base of the EU and international community.

So why is Solana not continuing this line of value based dialogue? Even if he met up with representatives of the opposition and the civil society he stated that EU relations with other countries are made on a no-terms basis, clearly leaving the EU 12 point-demands behind.

We have to be mindful in Europe that such a weak stand from our side has the effect to legitimize Lukashenka’s regime, which will be able to show “good relations” with EU and “respect from the international community” on the success list of his regime. In a country where state propaganda and severely limited free press and information (Belarus is among the 10 worst countries in the world to act for journalists) guarantees that there is a majority of population actually in favor of the regime, international recognition severely weakens the possibility of the opposition to work.

EU should continue a dialogue but never stop putting the spotlight on the grave misconducts of the the regime

In JEF we got a good example exactly how this legitimization process work in practice when a Russian activist asked us right after Solana’s visit how we could do our yearly JEF Belarus action “now” in the light of a “positive relationship” between EU and Lukashenka. EU recognition of Lukashenka, shown by the uncritical stand, apparently made all democracy advocacy illegitimate! In JEF we have instead said that we will do our symbolic action where Europe’s statutes get gauged for one night, 18-19 March, every year until the dictatorship falls. Last year youth in over 80 cities joined in to show Belarus civil society that they have our support and that we will continue to put the spotlight on their situation until the day they are free. EU should take on the same approach – continue a dialogue but never stop putting the spotlight on the grave misconducts of the regime.

A few weeks ago Belarus and Russia signed an agreement to set up a joint missile defense system along the border of Belarus towards Europe. At the same time Russia is promising Lukashenka renewed loans and a cheaper energy supply then any of the other former Soviet states. In light of a stronger and increasingly aggressive Russia, along the close partnership of Belarus and Russia, EU should pay full attention to the democratization process inside Belarus for its own security interests. But above all EU should back up its initial 12 demands towards Lukashenka’s regime in order to guarantee all Europeans democracy, dignity and freedom.

Instead of smiling handshakes the EU needs to take real actions – easing visa regime towards civil society from Belarus to enter EU as well as re-imposing the travel ban of Lukashenka and co. should form part of this strategy. A continuous dialogue between EU and Belarus is important – but lets make sure it does not only include energy and economics but human rights as well.

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P.S.

More info at www.charter97.com, an independent online magazine discussing the situation in Belarus and www.jef.eu on the JEF Belarus action taking place for the 4th consecutive year this 18-19th March.

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