Posted on 18.04.2013 in Belarus, EU and the Eastern Partnership, News

Politicians Call on EU to Open Door to Belarusians

The leaders of three Belarusian opposition organizations on April 8 issued a petition, “More Europe for Belarus,” calling on the EU not to “play by the rules of the Belarusian authorities.” 

Call for action

Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, chairman of the “Tell the Truth!” movement, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, chairman of the Movement for Freedom, and Alyaksey Yanukevich, chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, urged the European Union not to wait for some decisions by the Belarusian government if it was possible for Brussels to take its own steps.

A full dialogue between the Belarusian government and the EU would be possible only after the release of the political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions on the freedom of the former prisoners of conscience, the petition stressed. However, a number of steps can be taken right away for the sake of stability in the region, the independence of Belarus, the openness of Belarusian society, and urgent economic reform in the country, the petition said.

In particular, the EU should make the visa process for the citizens of Belarus as simple as possible and eventually abolish the Schengen visa fee; ensure that Poland and Lithuania start implementing their local border traffic agreements with Belarus; simplify the rules for small and medium-sized enterprises in Belarus willing to establish joint companies in Europe; create more opportunities for Belarusians to study at European universities; and increase the support of civil society and opposition organizations in Belarus.

The petitioners welcomed the European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus and urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately get involved in the EU’s program.

The statement drew fire from exiled politicians Andrey Sannikaw and Zyanon Paznyak who cautioned against any dealings with “the dictatorship” and called for tougher sanctions until the authorities release all political prisoners.

Survey exposes low awareness

About 17 percent of Belarusians have been in favor of EU membership in the last three years, found a recent survey conducted by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS).

However, a majority of Belarusians is unaware of EU programs for Belarus. For instance, 86 percent are unaware of the Eastern Partnership, a project aimed to boost ties between the EU and its eastern neighbors, including Belarus. The Belarusian state media avoid publicizing the initiative because the EU has limited Minsk’s participation in it over human rights abuses.

More that 95 percent are unaware of the Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus (DMB), another EU project involving Belarus.

As for the EU sanctions, 40 percent said that they were imposed in retaliation for the country’s independent policy. Other reasons mentioned included human rights violations (37 percent), the rigged 2010 presidential election (14 percent) and EU’s effort to change the government in Belarus (13 percent).

Nearly 59 percent of those polled said the sanctions cannot influence the Belarusian government’s policy.

At a conference held in the European Parliament last week, Milinkevich said the sanctions only increased anti-Western sentiment, diminished the influence of opposition forces, and sped up the “economic aggression by Russia.”

Much can be done 

Belarus’ progress towards democracy depends on people-to-people contacts between Belarus and the EU, Ales Lahvinets, deputy head of the Movement for Freedom, told The Viewer, defending Milinkevich’s position.

“When Belarus is isolated and a majority of Belarusians do not know what the EU is and why it imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials, it is hard to expect people to see the EU in a positive light,” he says.

He suggests that the EU should issue more visas to Belarusians and implement more projects benefiting the Belarusians, especially in education, culture and other areas.

Pragmatic approach

Belarusians take a pragmatic approach to relations with the EU and want to see real benefits of closer ties with the block, says Andrey Yeliseyew, a BISS political analyst.

He says poll results depend on the wording of questions. “I think if people were asked not about democracy and human rights, but whether the Belarusians want to have greater influence on decision-makers and local elected officials, better legal protection at work, people would say ‘yes.’ Most Belarusians think things are better in the EU in these areas,” he notes.

Source: Democratic Belarus