Situ­ation ana­lys­is and polit­ic­al recom­mend­a­tions

The regime under pres­sure over its for­eign policy. The upcom­ing pres­id­en­tial elec­tions in Belarus, which are set to take place on 19th Decem­ber 2010, are being over­shad­owed by a sub­stan­tial deteri­or­a­tion in the rela­tion­ship between the coun­try and its pres­id­ent Alex­an­der Lukashen­ko with Rus­sia, by a tense fin­an­cial and eco­nom­ic situ­ation, and by an ambi­val­ent approach to the European Uni­on. On the eve of the elec­tions, repress­ive acts of power against dis­sid­ents and mem­bers of the oppos­i­tion are also on the increase. Giv­en free and fair elec­tions, a joint can­did­ate for the polit­ic­al and civil soci­ety oppos­i­tion could pos­sibly have a real chance of emer­ging vic­tori­ous from the elec­tions for the first time since Lukashen­ko took power in 1994. Uni­fic­a­tion of the oppos­i­tion behind one can­did­ate does, how­ever, appear very improb­able. Priv­ileges afforded to Belarus, such as the access for its goods to the Rus­si­an mar­ket and the rates for gas deliv­er­ies to Belarus, which are favour­able when com­pared with prices on the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket, are being dis­mantled by Moscow step by step. Com­pared with 2005, the price for Rus­si­an gas deliv­er­ies to Belarus has quad­rupled. The cur­rent price stands at 193–194 USD per 1000 cubic metres of gas. In 2005 it was at 48.6 USD. On top of these bur­dens, the gov­ern­ment and the eco­nomy have had to deal with the inter­na­tion­al fin­an­cial crisis, the regres­sion of eco­nom­ic per­form­ance, and the reduc­tion of Rus­si­an sub­ven­tions for Rus­si­an oil deliv­er­ies to Belarus. The pres­sure for eco­nom­ic reform is grow­ing. Moscow is push­ing the cap­it­al takeover of slices of the Belarus­i­an eco­nomy by Rus­si­an com­pan­ies. Lukashen­ko is essen­tially res­ist­ing this pres­sure – but for how much longer? Moscow is using the media to por­tray Lukashen­ko in a neg­at­ive light and thereby to nur­ture neg­at­ive pub­lic opin­ion of the Belarus­i­an ruler who was pre­vi­ously recog­nised as a “true friend”. Recog­nising the state inde­pend­ence of the two Geor­gi­an provinces, South Osse­tia and Abkhazia, as is also deman­ded by Belarus, would add weight to Moscow’s pre­ten­sions of influ­ence over the post-Soviet space and raise doubts over the long-term nature of Belarus’ own inde­pend­ence. The cam­paign “Speak the Truth”, which has been run in Belarus since Feb­ru­ary 2010 using con­sid­er­able fin­an­cial resources and which, since Septem­ber, is also put­ting for­ward its own can­did­ate for the pres­id­ency in Uladz­i­mir Nyaklyayev, is a sign of fin­an­cial back­ing com­ing from Rus­sia and the cam­paign could not be run without Rus­si­an tol­er­a­tion. The power to fur­ther tight­en the screw lies in Russia’s hands. Belarus and the “East­ern Part­ner­ship” of the European Uni­on In spite of grave defi­cien­cies in its demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion pro­cess, Belarus has, for reas­ons of ensur­ing a coher­ent region­al polit­ic­al approach, also become a par­ti­cipant in the “East­ern Part­ner­ship”, ini­ti­ated on 7th May 2009 at the EU sum­mit in Prague. For the European Uni­on and oth­er European insti­tu­tions such as the Coun­cil of Europe and the OSCE, the devel­op­ment of demo­crat­ic state and soci­ety struc­tures in the suc­ces­sion states of the Soviet Uni­on, which include Belarus, con­tin­ues to be an import­ant goal of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. The first ses­sion of the Civil Soci­ety For­um of the East­ern Part­ner­ship, which took place in Brus­sels on 17th Novem­ber 2009 and which will be con­tin­ued in Novem­ber 2010, developed the fol­low­ing demands for Belarus and oth­er East­ern European par­ti­cipant coun­tries:

  • ease of regis­tra­tion for non-gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions
  • fair and free elec­tions
  • free­dom of the press and
  • an end to the polit­ic­al and pen­al per­se­cu­tion of the regime’s polit­ic­al enemies.

The European insti­tu­tions were called upon to remove dis­crim­in­a­tion when deal­ing with visas and in par­tic­u­lar to make it pos­sible for young people to unres­trictedly enter the European Uni­on for train­ing and devel­op­ment pro­grammes, and for intern­ships. The res­ults of the con­sulta­tions have not only been and will not only be presen­ted to the European Com­mis­sion and the Coun­cil of Europe, but also by selec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives of the for­um to the vari­ous plat­forms of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. In this way, they have made it onto the agenda of the mul­ti­lat­er­al insti­tu­tions of the part­ner­ship, on which gov­ern­ment rep­res­ent­at­ives sit. The first report of this kind was giv­en by the Belarus­i­an speak­er of the for­um, Sergej Mat­skie­witsch, on behalf of the Civil Soci­ety For­um of 17th Novem­ber 2009. The min­is­ters’ con­gress of the East­ern Part­ner­ship will make at the inter­im eval­u­ation in spring 2011. The European Uni­on will have to strengthen its polit­ic­al, fin­an­cial and civil soci­ety com­mit­ment to the East­ern Part­ner­ship in order to provide cred­ib­il­ity and sus­tain­ab­il­ity to the future eco­nom­ic per­spect­ives and the trans­form­a­tions in the soci­et­ies of the par­ti­cipant East­ern European coun­tries. In the absence of vis­ible and sus­tain­able steps on the long road to demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion, the Part­ner­ship and Cooper­a­tion Treaty between the European Uni­on and Belarus, agreed upon in 1995, has been put on ice since the con­sti­tu­tion­al coup by Lukashen­ko in Novem­ber 1996. Sim­il­arly, the European Uni­on has so far rejec­ted calls for a relax­ing of visa restric­tions for Belarus. The goal of great­er free­dom of move­ment, which the East­ern Part­ner­ship is striv­ing for, is finally cre­at­ing the oppor­tun­ity for nego­ti­ations on relax­ing visa restric­tions, includ­ing with Belarus. The EU Coun­cil of Min­is­ters instruc­ted the Com­mis­sion to pre­pare nego­ti­ations with Belarus on 17th Novem­ber 2009. Whilst Belarus has brought its fin­an­cial eco­nomy onto a course of reform by using IMF-loans and there­fore also under pres­sure from this inter­na­tion­al organ­isa­tion, the mod­ern­isa­tion of Belarus­i­an industry remains rooted to the spot. Reform of the polit­ic­al and leg­al frame­work, which is a pre­requis­ite for indus­tri­al regen­er­a­tion, seems to be irre­con­cil­able with the free­dom the author­it­ari­an regime allows itself. In the field of human rights, the situ­ation remains unsat­is­fact­ory from the point of view of the European insti­tu­tions:

  • death sen­tences con­tin­ue to be put into prac­tice
  • elec­tions con­tin­ue to be sub­ject to blatant manip­u­la­tion
  • non-gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions with an agenda tar­get­ing demo­crat­ic trans­form­a­tion and the respect of human rights, and with for­eign con­tacts, are dis­crim­in­ated against and their actions are obstruc­ted
  • demon­stra­tions are kept under con­trol or pre­ven­ted from tak­ing place by tak­ing admin­is­trat­ive action, such as passing short pris­on sen­tences
  • the regime’s media mono­poly (tele­vi­sion, radio, daily news­pa­pers) con­tin­ues to exist. Relax­a­tion towards a few media out­lets remain the excep­tion, and
  • the free­dom of teach­ing and research remains a pious wish. The pres­sure on sci­ent­ists and sci­entif­ic opin­ion research insti­tutes is grow­ing. The boy­cott of the inde­pend­ent uni­ver­sity exiled from Minsk – the European Human­ist­ic Uni­ver­sity – con­tin­ues. The work of the Jakob-Kolas-Gym­nas­i­um, which teaches in the Belarus­i­an lan­guage, can only con­tin­ue on a pro­vi­sion­al basis.
  • The guidelines for school les­sons con­tin­ue to be dom­in­ated by the social­ist ideal – giv­ing pri­or­ity to the col­lect­ive ahead of the indi­vidu­al – even if the trans­fer to fur­ther edu­ca­tion accord­ing to the Bologna mod­el now seems to have been decided upon. Arbit­rary decisions by admin­is­trat­ive bod­ies cre­ate uncer­tainty amongst teach­ing staff.

Policy recom­mend­a­tions In view of Belarus’ unstable inter­na­tion­al situ­ation, it is recom­men­ded that the European Uni­on devel­op and fol­low a dual strategy: This must, firstly, be focused on the devel­op­ment of eco­nom­ic rela­tions with­in the frame­work of the East­ern Part­ner­ship and on a bilat­er­al level, in order to fur­ther the mod­ern­isa­tion of Belarus­i­an industry and agri­cul­ture, without free­ing the regime from its oblig­a­tion to under­take demo­crat­ic reforms as lain out in the Charta of Par­is in Novem­ber 1990. Secondly, the dual strategy must aim towards integ­rat­ing the exist­ing bi- and mul­ti­lat­er­al cooper­a­tion agree­ments between vari­ous struc­tures of Belarus­i­an civil soci­ety into those of the EU mem­ber states – and this must take place inde­pend­ent of the devel­op­ment of rela­tions at the state level. With­in the frame­work of the East­ern Part­ner­ship, acts of cooper­a­tion with plat­forms which include gov­ern­ment mem­bers should be used to help fur­ther the rule of law and social justice, as well as to pro­mote train­ing and cit­izen exchange pro­grammes. This includes spe­cific­ally:

  • issu­ing visas free of charge
  • devel­op­ment of domest­ic elec­tion mon­it­or­ing
  • train­ing pro­grammes and intern­ships for young Belarus­i­ans in all fields,
  • integ­ra­tion of civil soci­ety ini­ti­at­ives on both sides (e.g. the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment incent­ive pro­gramme),
  • Belarus con­fer­ences in the areas of sci­ence, civil soci­ety and polit­ics,
  • the appoint­ment of rep­res­ent­at­ives for cooper­a­tion with Belarus­i­an civil soci­ety in both the European Uni­on and its mem­ber states.