Belarus: the White Elephant in the Room

Brussels, we’ve got a white elephant in the room. It’s Belarus, of course. The place where they beat up presidential candidates (watch the video of the beating of presidential candidate Neklyaev). The place where one man is clinging to power for 16 long years.

There were presidential elections yesterday in Belarus. They ended in protest and police violence, just as you might expect from a country which is at the bottom of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010. All the mise en scène was there – flags, songs, and police beating up and arresting protestors. This is a place where they kill journalists, after all.

I witnessed both the protest and ensuing police violence in Minsk, the capital of Belarus and the reaction of relevant EU officials yesterday. Three politicians spoke out in this order: Carl Bildt, Wilfred Martens and Jerzy Buzek (Mr. Buzek’s statement specifically called on Lukashenko to stop the violence). Not a single word was heard from the High Representative Catherine Ashton or any representative of the Commission.

Now there is a slight annoyance. It turns out that Belarus lies on the EU doorstep. Technically speaking, EU is committed to the values of democracy and rule of law. Democracy and rule of law are obviously not abundant in Belarus. So what do we do about it?

Well, not much, to be honest. There is something called high-level EU–Belarus political dialogue. There is some action by OSCE observers who say that probably the election process got somewhat better in the 2010 elections. Sort of.

This is worrying. Belarus is a European country and a potential EU Member State (no matter how far-fetched that sounds). The European Union has already experienced relative loss of leadership on the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The case of Belarus is disturbing and quite obviously Lukashenko has no intention to lose grip on power. All geopolitical considerations notwithstanding, EU can only profit from a free and democratic Belarus, and vice versa. That is why the EU must really step up its pressure on the political regime, or at least condemn it properly.

UPDATE: There’s a statement now by the spokesperson of the High Representative Catherine Ashton.

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