On the situ­ation in Belarus and recom­mend­a­tions for act­ive meas­ures to be taken by the European Uni­on and its Mem­ber States

The Situ­ation: Belarus on stand-by. The for­eign policy pur­sued by the dic­tat­or Alex­an­der Lukashen­ko can aptly be described, to use an expres­sion steeped in his­tory, as a dis­play of “seesaw polit­ics”. His policy this year has fur­ther con­tin­ued his attempts to secure his pos­i­tion of power on the inter­na­tion­al stage and to secure con­trol over the coun­try and its people in an emo­tion­al way i.e. through pat­ri­arch­al and dis­cip­lin­ari­an means. Devel­op­ments in East­ern Europe are gov­erned by intern­al polit­ic­al tur­bu­lence in Moscow, by the struggle push­ing towards a decision on rat­i­fic­a­tion of the treaty of asso­ci­ation between the European Uni­on and Ukraine, and by the stale­mate in the rela­tion­ship between the European Uni­on and Belarus, which is a rela­tion­ship shaped by con­front­a­tion. The East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Novem­ber in Vil­ni­us presents an oppor­tun­ity for assess­ing the situ­ation and for mak­ing an impact. The people of Belarus’ eco­nom­ic depend­ence on the sys­tem con­tin­ues its inev­it­able decline: Because of the state economy’s enorm­ous eco­nom­ic prob­lems, hun­dreds of thou­sands of Belarus­i­ans earn the money needed to sup­port their fam­il­ies abroad and with private “fam­ily busi­nesses” in Belarus. Around half of fam­ily income is earned in hard cash. The dis­tance between Belarus­i­ans and the regime is widen­ing and trust is dwind­ling in the country’s abil­ity to forge a suc­cess­ful future under the cur­rent con­di­tions. It would be wrong, how­ever, to infer an increase in will­ing­ness amongst the people of Belarus to engage in protest – they are, after all, up against an enorm­ous state appar­at­us of con­trol and repres­sion led by the KGB. The oppos­i­tion polit­ic­al parties and non-gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions – as weak as they may be faced with the on-endur­ing policy of repres­sion ren­der­ing them unable to gain any spe­cif­ic atten­tion from the gen­er­al pub­lic – record examples of and are them­selves evid­ence for the European con­scious­ness of shared val­ues of human dig­nity – a con­scious­ness which also exist in Belarus – and the rel­ev­ance of these val­ues for the devel­op­ment of an open soci­ety in Belarus with free and fair elec­tions, entre­pren­eur­i­al ini­ti­at­ive and respons­ib­il­ity for busi­ness and tech­nic­al innov­a­tion, as well as the demand for inde­pend­ent courts. It is a weak­ness of the open soci­et­ies in Europe that the polit­ic­al opposition’s lack of impact is inter­preted as a self-inflic­ted short­com­ing res­ult­ing from their lack of good stand­ing in the Belarus­i­an pub­lic sphere. This argu­ment is noth­ing but a fig leaf hid­ing an oppor­tun­ist­ic will­ing­ness to cooper­ate with an author­it­ari­an gov­ern­ment – a gov­ern­ment which both holds and exer­cises the mono­poly on viol­ence in the coun­try. After dec­ades of the col­lect­ive con­scious­ness being shaped in a cer­tain way, the per­son­al exper­i­ence of polit­ic­al free­dom, of pur­su­ing a ful­filling career and of par­ti­cip­at­ing in the eco­nom­ic and social devel­op­ment of the coun­try is of crit­ic­al import­ance for the country’s future pro­spects. A society’s devel­op­ment in a county in Europe is led first and fore­most by the people being pre­pared to accept respons­ib­il­ity and to influ­ence the eco­nom­ic pro­cesses, the country’s polit­ic­al cul­ture and its edu­ca­tion and train­ing insti­tu­tions – oth­er­wise the coun­try grinds to a halt. This is the situ­ation Belarus finds itself in today – and this has been the situ­ation for almost two dec­ades. Today, there is inter­na­tion­al con­sensus that the social­ist planned and state eco­nomy imploded because of its lack of innov­a­tion and absence of com­pet­i­tion. Not even the mono­poly of viol­ence con­trolled by the state, party and secret ser­vices in the Soviet bloc could provide a long-term solu­tion to this real­ity. Giv­en this his­tor­ic­al back­ground, which is anchored firmly in the con­scious­ness of the people, it must be the aim of our efforts to sup­port the citizen’s pro­cess of self-dis­cov­ery, his free­dom to make decisions, his edu­ca­tion, his pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­fic­a­tions and his social respons­ib­il­ity – in the interests of the cit­izen him­self and of the coun­try as a whole. Without this shift in cit­izens’ con­scious­ness, the form­al adop­tion of European val­ues remains, in the way it is per­ceived by the people, a pro­cess intro­duced, if not inflic­ted, from the out­side. The logic of these val­ues can­not be under­stood and they are there­fore unable to lead to those things which an open soci­ety can achieve in terms of polit­ic­al dia­logue, com­mer­cial devel­op­ment and social secur­ity. The Lukashen­ko regime is pre­vent­ing demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al parties from reach­ing their poten­tial, it is hinder­ing medi­um-sized busi­nesses and it is imped­ing the qual­i­fic­a­tion of skilled work­ers – and it is doing this in an eco­nomy which is exposed to the com­pet­i­tion of inter­na­tion­al mar­kets. With the ana­lys­is of the “Human Rights Situ­ation in Belarus” now being presen­ted, the asso­ci­ation “Menschen­rechte in Belarus e. V.” aims to con­trib­ute to a real­ist­ic assess­ment of the intern­al con­sti­tu­tion of the coun­try, in which even the min­im­um stand­ards gov­ern­ing cit­izens’ rights and their pro­tec­tion against the des­pot­ism of state and soci­ety, as defined by the United Nations in 1948 and affirmed by the European doc­u­ments for the European region, are abused: There are no free and fair elec­tions, there is no inde­pend­ent leg­al sys­tem and there is no free speech, no free­dom of assembly and no reli­gious free­dom. Belarus is one of the few coun­tries where the death pen­alty not only con­tin­ues to exist as a form­al pun­ish­ment but where it is also applied – and that as a res­ult of dubi­ous court pro­cesses. From the polls con­duc­ted by inde­pend­ent pub­lic opin­ion research insti­tutes, it is pos­sible to see a fall in the population’s trust in the long-term abil­ity of the regime to man­age the country’s social and eco­nom­ic prob­lems. Pro-Rus­si­an and pro-West­ern tend­en­cies bal­ance each oth­er out. Many of the country’s cit­izens hope to main­tain good rela­tion­ships with both centres of power. Trust in the mar­ket eco­nomy is on the increase. Essen­tially, the coun­try does have eco­nom­ic poten­tial, includ­ing in the indus­tri­al sec­tor, but this is not being suf­fi­ciently used because of a lack of mar­ket eco­nomy reforms. Advant­age­ous prices for crude oil from Rus­sia make it pos­sible to export oil products prof­it­ably to the EU mar­ket. Offi­cial planned quotas for indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion lead to excess stocks when there is a mis­cal­cu­la­tion of the mar­ket. Belarus con­tin­ues to suf­fer from high rates of infla­tion.

From the offi­cial Belarus­i­an point of view, the country’s mem­ber­ship in the East­ern Part­ner­ship has brought the coun­try no polit­ic­al or eco­nom­ic advant­ages. The prin­ciples and the prac­tise of Belarus’ gen­er­al policy towards the West and, in par­tic­u­lar, Belarus’ policy towards Ger­many are rooted in the goals of the East­ern Part­ner­ship and rep­res­ent a con­struct­ive and cred­ible option for steer­ing the coun­try towards sus­tain­able demo­crat­ic devel­op­ment

Catalogue of Measures

  1. Trans­form­a­tion Centres. The asso­ci­ation “Menschen­rechte in Belarus e. V.” is a strong sup­port­er of the devel­op­ment of “Trans­form­a­tion Centres” in the coun­tries of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. This includes a Centre at the European Human­it­ies Uni­ver­sity of Minsk (EMU), which is cur­rently in Lithuani­an exile. Such Centres should, in cooper­a­tion with oth­er aca­dem­ic and research insti­tu­tions, devel­op aca­dem­ic courses for polit­ic­al sci­ences, eco­nom­ics and busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion which pay par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the chal­lenges of trans­form­a­tion. Trade and com­merce in the coun­tries of the European Uni­on and its neigh­bour­hood exist in eco­nom­ic com­pet­i­tion with one anoth­er. For this reas­on, the dual edu­ca­tion, includ­ing both prac­tic­al and theoretical/​academic aspects, of spe­cial­ists in all areas of the com­mer­cial and ser­vice sec­tors is essen­tial. Defi­cien­cies exist at the EHU in this respect, as they do in the edu­ca­tion­al pro­grammes in oth­er East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. This issue must be addressed in a mean­ing­ful way. Busi­ness and polit­ic­al found­a­tions must adjust their devel­op­ment strategies for East­ern and Middle Europe.
  2. Edu­ca­tion and train­ing for Belarus­i­ans in the Mem­ber States of the European Uni­on. The asso­ci­ation “Menschen­rechte in Belarus e. V.” is com­mit­ted to extend­ing oppor­tun­it­ies for people from Belarus to study in the coun­tries of the European Uni­on. These are people who can one day per­form qual­i­fied work in Belarus and who sup­port the devel­op­ment of pub­lic spir­it and ini­ti­at­ives, indeed prac­tising them them­selves. In this way, these people con­trib­ute to the prosper­ity and diversity of soci­ety, which are to be found in the his­tor­ic­al roots of this region but have fallen vic­tim to author­it­ari­an sys­tems. Sym­po­sia should – in the con­text of the mod­ern­isa­tion debate – work with civil soci­ety in the coun­tries of the East­ern Part­ner­ship to identi­fy needs and ways of sat­is­fy­ing these needs, e.g. for the field of IT, for engin­eer­ing, busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion, eco­nom­ics and law, but also for skilled trades in medi­um-sized busi­nesses and in almost all areas of the ser­vice sec­tor. Prac­tic­al exper­i­ence con­trib­utes to the devel­op­ment of trust in an open soci­ety, in which a sol­id middle-class eco­nomy and a plur­al­ist­ic party land­scape can and do become the most import­ant pil­lars of demo­cracy – as is the case in most EU Mem­ber States. The visa policy which has already been relaxed in prac­tic­al terms for the major­ity of the pop­u­la­tion should be fur­ther lib­er­al­ised in order to sup­port the pro­jects dis­cussed in this paper.
  3. School edu­ca­tion cooper­a­tion pro­grammes between the EU Mem­ber States and Belarus. The Belarus­i­an regime, in spite of all its meas­ures against plur­al­ity, is cur­rently show­ing open­ness for edu­ca­tion cooper­a­tion pro­grammes for schools. In par­tic­u­lar, the par­ti­cipant num­bers at the “Ger­man lan­guage dip­loma of the Stand­ing Con­fer­ence of the Min­is­ters of Edu­ca­tion and Cul­tur­al Affairs”, offered by the Ger­man side, are con­tinu­ally rising and the Belarus­i­an side has declared its interest in fur­ther increas­ing the par­ti­cipant num­bers. As a rule, in the school pro­grammes con­nec­ted to this con­fer­ence, not only lan­guage skills are taught, but cul­tur­al aspects and val­ues are also dis­cussed. The Mem­ber States should there­fore check wheth­er their meas­ures in the area of school edu­ca­tion pro­grammes can be main­tained and, where pos­sible, intens­i­fied, for example through per­son­al and fin­an­cial invest­ment in courses teach­ing lan­guages of the European Uni­on. Exist­ing organ­isa­tions on the Ger­man side, but also organ­isa­tions from oth­er EU Mem­ber States (such as the Insti­tut Français) could be open to such pro­grammes.
  4. The policy of sanc­tions against Belarus. The policy of sanc­tions against Belarus is often crit­ic­ally ques­tioned by oppon­ents with the argu­ment that no change in the regime’s beha­viour can be brought about and that, on the con­trary, the regime becomes more rigid in its pos­i­tion. Above all, the sanc­tions express solid­ar­ity with the repressed people and they are a sign of the European Uni­on and its Mem­ber States’ con­vic­tion to not even raise the sug­ges­tion of the regime’s demo­crat­ic legit­im­acy as long as human rights are being trampled in the way they have been in the Belarus which Lukashen­ko has shaped since 1996. Lukashen­ko not only demon­strates his read­i­ness for con­flict towards the European Uni­on but also occa­sion­ally towards his ally, the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion. Sus­tain­able pro­gress on the path towards a demo­crat­ic Belarus will undoubtedly lead to an improve­ment and a deep­en­ing of this rela­tion­ship and cooper­a­tion. Media reports make it clear that many dis­cus­sion top­ics are kept under wraps. This is not good. In the par­lia­ment­ary bod­ies of the European Insti­tu­tions, the devel­op­ment of the coun­try is repeatedly made the top­ic of dis­cus­sion and this should remain the case. The people of Belarus should know that the sanc­tions are for the – now self-elec­ted – Pres­id­ent and his palad­ins and not for the cit­izens of the coun­try. The list of names of regime rep­res­ent­at­ives whose entry into the European Uni­on is restric­ted is, in this respect, an effect­ive and vis­ible reflec­tion of the clearly tar­geted cri­ti­cism which should be main­tained and, if required, exten­ded. The meas­ures of repres­sion and the bru­tal pro­sec­u­tion pro­ced­ures tar­get­ing pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates for the elec­tion in Decem­ber 2010, as well as val­id doubts over the exe­cu­tions car­ried out in 2012 of the alleged per­pet­rat­ors of the sub­way explo­sions, provide renewed reas­on to dis­qual­i­fy the man who clings to power in Minsk from being con­sidered a trust­worthy head of state with­in the European com­munity.
  5. Media. Via elec­tron­ic media, the country’s cit­izens con­tin­ue to have access to the devel­op­ments in the rest of the world, above all in Europe – even if sur­veil­lance in Belarus is grow­ing. Tar­geted pro­gram­ming in Rus­si­an and Belarus­i­an remains neces­sary. Journ­al­ist trips to Ger­many and to the European Uni­on must con­tin­ue to be organ­ised on a reg­u­lar basis.

Future prospects

With the meas­ures pro­posed in this Strategy Paper (Trans­form­a­tion Centres, Edu­ca­tion and train­ing for Belarus­i­ans, School edu­ca­tion pro­grammes, policy of sanc­tions and media sup­port), we want to improve the sup­port of cit­izens and civil soci­ety. In spite of the cur­rent lack of rel­ev­ant short-term polit­ic­al achieve­ments, Belarus remains with its author­it­ari­an sys­tem and the cit­izens of the coun­try – trapped without free­dom – in the focus of our atten­tion. The European Uni­on must not refuse to take a con­struct­ive and intens­i­fied approach to Belarus. Although the Uni­on faces many short-term fin­an­cial chal­lenges, it must also prove its abil­ity to make a dif­fer­ence in for­eign policy with actions designed to have a long-term impact on the situ­ation in Belarus. Part of this approach must always be a will­ing­ness to cooper­ate.