The asso­ci­ation “Human Rights in Belarus” pub­lished it’s first strategy paper “Ger­many, the European Uni­on and civil soci­ety in Belarus” in April 2006.

I. Reasons for a more pro-active German Foreign Policy on Belarus:

1. With a more pro-act­ive Belarus policy, Ger­many could re-estab­lish itself with­in the European Uni­on as a part­ner seek­ing closest pos­sible cooper­a­tion with the oth­er mem­ber states, includ­ing smal­ler and medi­um-sized EU states, thus com­pens­at­ing for the loss of cred­ib­il­ity suffered in recent years, among oth­ers with Lithuania and Poland.

2. Ger­many could seize the issue of Belarus and advance the notion that the shared for­eign and secur­ity policy of the EU is not dead, but that it is focus­sing on one of the most import­ant and polit­ic­ally del­ic­ate issues: the pro­mo­tion of demo­cracy and human rights with­in the suc­cessor states to the Soviet Uni­on – in accord­ing with the Par­is Charter adop­ted in Novem­ber 1989.

3. The pro­mo­tion of demo­cracy and human rights in Belarus is of pro­found import­ance to Ger­many and Europe. From a mor­al, secur­ity policy and eco­nom­ic point of view, it is not accept­able that the EU tol­er­ate a repress­ive, author­it­ari­an sys­tem on its bor­der. The uni­fic­a­tion of Europe will only be com­pleted when the last divid­ing line has been sur­moun­ted.

4. Address­ing the issue of Belarus at the polit­ic­al level of com­mu­nic­a­tion will indic­ate to Rus­sia that Ger­many and the EU are not will­ing to accept viol­a­tions of jointly agreed upon stand­ards (Charter of Par­is, Novem­ber 1990), thus hope­fully gen­er­at­ing a change of atti­tude in Moscow on the demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion pro­cess in East­ern Europe. Once the Rus­si­an for­eign policy is chal­lenged in a cred­ible man­ner, it is felt that con­ces­sions could be achieved which are import­ant for the demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion in Europe.

5. Ger­many is held in high regard by the cit­izens of Belarus, and enjoys a high level of trust. Ger­many has a his­tor­ic­al oblig­a­tion to sup­port the coun­try that suffered so much dur­ing the Second World War.

The polit­ic­al lib­er­al­iz­a­tion of Belarus may gen­er­ate eco­nom­ic stim­uli for the EU and Ger­many, par­tic­u­larly since trade in the coun­try is already increas­ingly ori­ented towards the West. As part of an over­all strategy, the demo­crat­isa­tion of the coun­try may pre­vent migra­tion into Europe, and secure European jobs.

II. A Regime – based on electoral Fraud

Undoubtedly, Lukashen­ko and his admin­is­trat­ors severely manip­u­lated the most recent pres­id­en­tial elec­tions and restric­ted the devel­op­ment of the polit­ic­al and social oppos­i­tion in every respect. The pop­u­la­tion was intim­id­ated and is depend­ent on the state gov­ern­ment to a large extent fin­an­cially. Except for the con­sumer sec­tor, private com­pan­ies depend on state con­tracts, and the inde­pend­ent media are only able to main­tain a mar­gin­al exist­ence with the help of for­eign assist­ance.

Inde­pend­ent opin­ion sur­veys indic­ate that the pop­u­la­tion sup­ports an evenly bal­anced policy of cooper­a­tion with the European Uni­on and Rus­sia, without wish­ing to com­prom­ise on nation­al inde­pend­ence. The primary eco­nom­ic advant­ages for a large sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion offer an advant­age to the regime, as opposed to the dis­ad­vant­ages faced by cit­izens in the face of numer­ous forms of sup­pres­sion and state des­pot­ism – above all in the crim­in­al courts and state pris­ons, as well as in inter­rog­a­tion centres. But that part of the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing under author­it­ari­an frame­work con­di­tions con­sti­tutes a minor­ity – as is the case in all coun­tries under auto­crat­ic, author­it­ari­an rule

As was already the case in 2001, OSCE elec­tion mon­it­ors iden­ti­fied severe flaws in the elect­or­al pro­ced­ure dur­ing the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in 2006, togeth­er with viol­a­tions of the elect­or­al law and OSCE stand­ards. These reports have been loudly cri­ti­cised by Moscow and Minsk, who demand the elim­in­a­tion or modi­fic­a­tion of the OSCE prac­tise of organ­ising inter­na­tion­al elect­or­al mon­it­or­ing. If EU mem­ber states wish to main­tain the import­ant agree­ments reached regard­ing inter­na­tion­al elec­tion mon­it­or­ing, also tak­ing oth­er “prob­lem states” in the OSCE into account, they must give a clear indic­a­tion now that there are lim­its to European con­ces­sions.

Regard­less of the polit­ic­al sanc­tions which were imposed by the European Uni­on and oth­er European insti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ments against the Lukashen­ko regime after 1996, when Lukashen­ko, who had been freely elec­ted in 1994, imposed a con­sti­tu­tion­al coup d’etat with the aim of polit­ic­ally elim­in­at­ing the oppos­i­tion and pro­mot­ing the nomen­clature which had been adop­ted from the former Soviet Uni­on, the European Uni­on, and its mem­ber states have to date failed to sys­tem­at­ic­ally sup­port the polit­ic­al and social oppos­i­tion which grew out of the mass organ­isa­tions which had sur­vived the Soviet era (trade uni­ons, women’s and youth organ­isa­tions).

There is no pro­act­ive strategy of the European Uni­on that unequi­voc­ally presents itself as such.

III. The European Union without a Political Strategy for Belarus – quo vadis GASP?

The European Uni­on and its mem­ber states have been demand­ing for over a dec­ade that the Lukashen­ko regime observe the OSCE stand­ards for the demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion pro­cess agreed upon in the Charter of Par­is in Novem­ber 1990, which triggered off long term demo­crat­ic devel­op­ments in many parts of cent­ral and east­ern Europe. In Belarus, begin­ning in 1996, Lukashen­ko revoked the demo­crat­ic state and social struc­tures that had been put in place since 1991.

In Novem­ber 1999, the Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Yeltsin and the Belarus­i­an Pres­id­ent signed – togeth­er with the oth­er Heads of State and Gov­ern­ment from states par­ti­cip­at­ing in OSCE activ­it­ies – an agree­ment in Para­graph 22 of the OSCE Sum­mit Declar­a­tion in Istan­bul that they would imple­ment demo­crat­ic reforms (par­lia­ment­ary rights, free­dom of the press, inde­pend­ent courts and the ces­sa­tion of the leg­al and polit­ic­al sup­pres­sion of the oppos­i­tion) in cooper­a­tion with the OSCE Mis­sion and by way of agree­ments nego­ti­ated and reached with the polit­ic­al oppos­i­tion. In con­nec­tion with the pres­id­en­tial elec­tions in 2001, the major­ity of the con­ces­sions made by Lukashen­ko towards a demo­crat­ic devel­op­ment were revoked. Even if the OSCE may be seen by many to be weak and mar­gin­al­ised, the observ­ance of OSCE agree­ments by par­ti­cip­at­ing states con­tin­ues to be import­ant for Europe. The OSCE mech­an­ism rep­res­ents a step for­ward in terms of polit­ic­ally bind­ing inter­na­tion­al law across Europe which should not be aban­doned.

In the spring of 2002, the European Uni­on struck Belarus off the pri­or­ity list of its inter­na­tion­al “Human Rights and Demo­cracy” sup­port pro­gramme, while at the same time, con­tinu­ing a lim­ited TACIS pro­gramme, the imple­ment­a­tion of which required the agree­ment of the Belarus­i­an gov­ern­ment, how­ever, and which – thus far – was unable to provide any real sup­port to demo­crat­ic oppos­i­tion groups. In 2002, the OSCE mis­sion in Minsk lost the right gained in 1997 to dir­ectly pro­mote the demo­crat­ic move­ment.

Thanks to private ini­ti­at­ives and funds from the Fed­er­al Min­istry for Eco­nom­ic Cooper­a­tion, Ger­many is provid­ing a sig­ni­fic­ant level of sup­port for Chernobyl-related pro­jects and pro­grammes in the field of health and edu­ca­tion, but is reluct­ant to become involved in dis­cus­sions regard­ing a polit­ic­al strategy aimed at offer­ing civil soci­ety struc­tur­al sup­port in its polit­ic­al battle with the regime in order to push through and imple­ment basic demo­crat­ic rights, primar­ily fair and free elec­tions. Poland and Lithuania in par­tic­u­lar are demand­ing such a polit­ic­al strategy from the European Uni­on. They are cooper­at­ing with the USA in this area, since the European Uni­on has respon­ded with only a lim­ited degree of under­stand­ing, and has shown no will­ing­ness to pro­mote a pro­act­ive policy of this nature.

IV. The European Union needs a proactive Policy for Belarus – for the sake of Civil Society

The European insti­tu­tions have repeatedly sup­por­ted the polit­ic­al oppos­i­tion in their pub­lic declar­a­tions and cri­ti­cised the repress­ive meas­ures adop­ted by the regime. In par­tic­u­lar, they have pub­lished a report on miss­ing per­sons the (Pourgourides report of the par­lia­ment­ary assembly of the European Coun­cil), but for a num­ber of reas­ons, they have been highly reti­cent with regard to the devel­op­ment of a coher­ent polit­ic­al strategy for the dir­ect pro­mo­tion of demo­cracy and free­dom in Belarus.

This reti­cence can be explained in a num­ber of ways, such as

  • The cooper­a­tion with Rus­sia, which is itself worthy of cri­ti­cism with regard to demo­cracy and polit­ic­al free­dom, as are oth­er former mem­ber states of the Soviet Uni­on
  • The lack of exper­i­ence at the European level in apply­ing the wide-ran­ging mech­an­isms for dir­ectly pro­mot­ing the oppos­i­tion move­ment in Belarus or in any oth­er coun­try, without involving the gov­ern­ment con­cerned, and
  • Fear of polit­ic­al aspir­a­tions for EU mem­ber­ship on the part of Belarus

Primar­ily, European experts and gov­ern­ment bod­ies regard the Belarus prob­lem as being an issue which is without doubt of import­ance to its imme­di­ate neigh­bours (Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Rus­sia), but not to the EU as a whole. In any case, they feel it is desir­able to dis­cuss the demo­crat­isa­tion pro­cess in Belarus with Moscow.

The dis­ad­vant­ages of the appar­ent low level approach regard­ing a dir­ect engage­ment towards and in cooper­a­tion with the oppos­i­tion struc­tures are obvi­ous:

Verbal sup­port aside, the Belarus oppos­i­tion feels aban­doned by the European Uni­on and the mem­ber states in its battle with the author­it­ari­an regime. Europe is los­ing cred­ib­il­ity with regard to its stance on undemo­crat­ic, author­it­ari­an regimes in Europe.

The USA has been accep­ted by the oppos­i­tion as the major part­ner regard­ing dir­ect, pro­act­ive sup­port, although this sup­port is polit­ic­ally highly “vul­ner­able” in the light of the situ­ation in Iraq and the prob­lem­at­ic issue of the US pris­ons in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Lukashen­ko can “score points” when he tells the pop­u­la­tion that he regards the pro­spect of a US attack on Belarus as being prob­able, rather than out of the ques­tion.

The European Coun­cil must approve a strategy aimed at demand­ing demo­cracy from the Lukashen­ko gov­ern­ment, both by offer­ing con­crete recom­mend­a­tions and by dis­cuss­ing the issue with Moscow. At the same time, and inde­pend­ently of con­tacts with the gov­ern­ment, a series of pro­grammes must be approved which are designed to sup­port the repressed oppos­i­tion in the coun­try by means of con­crete meas­ures, in order to cred­ibly present the pop­u­la­tion with an altern­at­ive to the repress­ive regime:

  • a demo­crat­ic order
  • a free mar­ket soci­ety with a strong basis in soci­ety
  • the rule of law, also in the courts

In order to be able to do this, the European Uni­on has to devel­op and bring to bear new mech­an­isms which can be used to imple­ment the demo­crat­ic strategy, includ­ing:

(1) The nom­in­a­tion of an EU Spe­cial Rep­res­ent­at­ive for Belarus and the form­a­tion of an advis­ory com­mit­tee com­pris­ing high-pro­file European politi­cians and experts.

(2) The estab­lish­ment of a demo­crat­ic fund for Belarus with spe­cial imple­ment­a­tion reg­u­la­tions which do justice to the actu­al situ­ation in Belarus.

(3) The pro­vi­sion of elec­tron­ic plat­forms abroad (trans­mit­ters, TV), which can be used by the cit­izens of Belarus in order to ensure a com­pre­hens­ive and sus­tain­able flow of inform­a­tion and pub­lic debate on out­stand­ing Belarus­i­an issues dis­cus­sion to the coun­try.

(4) Advis­ory and dis­cus­sion plat­forms in the West, with par­ti­cipants of high stand­ing from Europe and the mem­ber states for dis­cus­sion and con­sulta­tion with the polit­ic­al and social oppos­i­tion “on terms of equity” terms”.

(5) The devel­op­ment of pro­grammes, e.g. for elect­or­al mon­it­or­ing by loc­al res­id­ents and base organ­isa­tion ini­ti­at­ives; for sup­port in the estab­lish­ment of an inform­al, per­man­ent com­mit­tee for the oppos­i­tion abroad, for the devel­op­ment of polit­ic­al coali­tions for the elec­tion cam­paign, and for the form­a­tion of gov­ern­ments and gov­ern­ment pro­grammes.

(6) Train­ing and fur­ther edu­ca­tion place­ments in Europe for stu­dents, aca­dem­ic teach­ers, sci­ent­ists, eco­nom­ists, politi­cians, journ­al­ists, groups and organ­isa­tions (women’s’ groups, stu­dents, trade uni­ons, com­puter scientists/​political sci­ent­ists).

(7) At a Ger­man level, polit­ic­al coali­tion part­ners should dis­cuss and elab­or­ate the strategy to be adop­ted regard­ing Belarus, which should address sev­er­al basic issues:

  • A par­al­lel strategy towards the gov­ern­ment and civil soci­ety in Belarus
  • The pro­mo­tion of demo­cracy as an instru­ment of Ger­man for­eign policy in East­ern Europe
  • The role of polit­ic­al found­a­tions
  • Ger­man ini­ti­at­ives in the European insti­tu­tions
  • cooperation/​agreement with the USA regard­ing the pro­mo­tion of demo­cracy – no dir­ect demand regard­ing the per­son of Lukashen­ko, but on the need for change of the polit­ic­al frame­work con­di­tions – from author­it­ari­an regime to demo­crat­ic con­sti­tu­tion and insti­tu­tions.

(8) The desir­able involve­ment of France in this pro­cess may be achieved via joint gov­ern­ment­al talks, or – togeth­er with Poland – via the Wei­mar tri­angle. Lithuania and Latvia have to be con­sul­ted on this mat­ter.

V. Procedures

This list of meas­ures is tem­por­ary in nature, but also con­tains sev­er­al recom­mend­a­tions, the imple­ment­a­tion of which is of dir­ect import­ance to the stand­ing of Ger­many in East­ern and Cent­ral Europe. Some meas­ures can be imple­men­ted rap­idly, while oth­ers are more of a long-term sig­ni­fic­ance. In any case, they are poten­tially more effect­ive than the EU res­ol­u­tions agreed to date.

It is clear that sanc­tions in the form of visa restric­tions and lim­it­a­tions in cooper­a­tion can be regarded as being steps in the right dir­ec­tion, but they only rep­res­ent one side of the coin in terms of the range of pos­sible responses by the West. A polit­ic­al strategy must not be lim­ited to visa sanc­tions.

Only pro­act­ive meas­ures can lead to a change in the polit­ic­al devel­op­ment and the pro­spects for the polit­ic­al and social oppos­i­tion in Belarus.