Euroatlantism and Belarus
Tell us please about Brussels Forum in more detail. What is peculiar about it?
- The peculiarity of the forum is that all vexed problems of today are viewed from the point of view of cooperation between the US and Europe, that is, they have a transatlantic character. The agenda shows the earnestness of discussions: it included Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and post-Soviet space; energy problems, challenges of globalization. One could names of several sections which were held, for instance: “Climate Change and Energy Security”, “Civil Liberties in an Age of Terror”, “Europe`s East, Russia`s Western Neighborhood: Working Towards a Common Transatlantic Approach”, “Baltic to the Wider Black Sea: The New Euroatlantic Challenge?”, “Approaches of Euroatlantic community to relations with China”, “Does Europe and America need?” and so on.
Participants of a really high level have taken part in Brussels Forum. The forum was held under the auspices of Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt. It should be noted that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Judge of the U.S. Supreme Court Stephen Gerald Breyer, U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Foreign Ministers of Sweden, Georgia, Canada, Armenia, Interior Minister of Germany, European Parliamentarians, representatives of the European Commission, the U.S. Congress, leading analytical centers of European and America have taken part in the forum.
At the same time the atmosphere is informal there. This forum is interesting by the fact that in two days one can get a full view of what is happening in different regions of the world, and how the world elite treats current problems: military conflicts problem, social, energy problems, problems of relations between the states of Europe and North America. One could easily talk to any of world politicians and analysts. All sessions are moderated by well-known journalists, representing internationally renowned newspapers and magazines: “The Washington Post”, “The New York Times”, “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zietung”, “Le Mond”, BBC Radio Station, CNN TV Channel and so on.
The aim of the forum is a so-called “synchronization of watches”, i.e. to understand what is going on in the world in reality. Why the forum was held on these dates? On April 30 EU-US summit was held. In the run-up to the summit key players had a possibility to discuss issues on the agenda of the summit.
-Which issues are of most importance for the political elite of Europe and the U.S.?
- Undoubtedly, one should note the statement of Javier Solana, who had just returned from Turkey after talks with Turkish delegation on issues directly connected with the international security and peace, for instance on issues of nuclear programs of Iran. Possible solutions of this problem were discussed there rather openly in presence of all participants. Mr. Solana believes that Iran has rather complicated composition of the society, and it cannot be categorically viewed as a state ruled by one person or a group of Islamists. That is why he admits a possibility of direct negotiations of the U.S. and Iran. It is a rather disputable statement; however the statement by Solana was a sensation in a way.
The session on Russia was stormy, especially after Putin’s statement on virtual imposing a moratorium on observance of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Undoubtedly, all recent tendencies in Russia connected with limiting freedom of the press, journalists’ assassinations, disbanding of demonstrations are worrying the democratic community a lot. At the forum Russia was represented by the chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev, Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinskiy, some political analysts.
It is worth mentioning that representatives of Russia told that the time when the EU would consist of 48 states, is near at hand. Thus they included Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbajan, Armenia to the EU. They wondered how relations of the EU with Russia would be shaped when 48 countries would constitute the EU, and Russia would stay outside the union.
- Was the situation in Belarus discussed there?
- Yes, issues related to Belarus were discussed at the forum. In particular, the role of Russia in Belarusian politics, the support of Lukashenka’s regime by Russia, including support in international organizations, were discussed. Russian representatives haven’t given public answers to these questions.
Certainly, many people were interested in Belarus, and there were highest representatives of Europe and the US, members of the European and national parliaments, representatives of the State Department and influential representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties at the forum.
But significance of this forum lies in a chance to learn a lot about what leading politicians and analysts think about this or that situation, and on Belarus in particular.
- Whom have you and Iryna Krasouskaya met at the Forum?
- We had many conversations, with the US Secretary of State Daniel Fried, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Czech Vice Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, a member of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, former Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Hilary Clinton’s advisor Richard Hallbrook, the chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev, politicians and analysts from the US, Bulgaria, Poland, Latvia, Germany, Britain, Georgia…
- Did you have a chance to bring up questions of Belarus at the forum?
- I had brought up a question about reasons of Russia’s absolute support of official Belarus in the Council of Europe and in the UN, and in international organizations in general. It appears that Russian representatives didn’t like such presentation of a problem much. Russia still wants to look like a democratic state, and a too express obvious support to the Belarusian regime notorious for its gross human rights violations does not contribute to this image. Besides, I reminded the story of suspending observance of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty by Belarus in 1995, and that Belarusian leadership is constantly harps on its readiness to take part in anti-NATO and anti-US military actions of Russia, which is extremely dangerous for Belarus, I think. It is simply thoughtlessly to get involved in a dispute of nuclear states, as a role of a small European state should be based upon establishing constructive relations, achieving compromises for promoting own interests, and not on taking part in confrontation.
There was a possibility to discuss the Belarusian situation with key players, representatives of the US and Europe, on the sidelines of the forum. We succeeded in finding out many interesting things.
For instance, we have found out that a packet offered by the official Minsk to the EU exists. Conditions set forth by the EU to Minsk for establishing relations with Minsk are well-known. They have been set out in an unofficial document last year. Minsk offers a kind of exchange. Belarusian authorities are ready to consider the question of releasing some persons who are political prisoners, though they do not admit they are political prisoners. They are ready to work on the electoral code, ready to follow some conditions of the Council of Europe, but this all is done in a form which lets slip true intentions of the Belarusian side: recognition of the odious undemocratic regime. For instance, the Belarusian side states that the work on amending the electoral law would be headed by Lidzya Yarmoshyna, who had been blacklisted for her activities and banned entry to many countries. Old proposals of establishing the position of an ombudsman and possible death penalty abolition are pulled out. These steps have been discussed for many years, and nothing new happens, while demands of the Belarusian side are rather well-expressed. Firstly, it is not excluding Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences. The official Minsk wants this decision to be taken in the near future, though nothing is done to return rights of trade unions. Besides, they demand to liquidate the list of unwelcome persons, and what is the most important, canceling of all measures on freezing assets of those persons abroad. It means that this measure is really effective. They demand the EU to change rhetoric, not to call black black, but to call black white.
An agreement for opening a representation of the European Commission in Minsk is presented as a considerable step forwards to the EU. Though such actions do not need agreement or disagreement of a country, as when diplomatic relations exist between the EU and Belarus, and when there is Belarus’ representative in the European Commission, such relations are always developing on a clear bilateral basis. When the European Commission adopts a decision to send its delegation, the receiving side can only assist its appearance in the country, and cannot refuse to accept this delegation.
These “packet proposals” have been discussed with the representatives of the European Commission, with representatives of Solana office rather seriously, but Europeans do not see real actions on the part of Minsk still, as they have been taught by many years of deceit, which followed all proposals, and do not believe words about a desire to improve relations heard from official Minsk from time to time. However, they would be ready to perceive any concrete steps, and in the first place they wait for release of all political prisoners certainly. This question is of great significance. I drew attention of European experts to the fact that a situation of bargaining cannot be allowed on the question of political prisoners’ release. The condition of release of all prisoners of conscience and bringing repressions to an end must be categorical. Europeans have full understanding in this issue, I think.
On the whole, they do not see readiness of the regime for an open discussion, and do not see official representatives who would be responsible for their words and actions. For instance, after assurances of a high-ranking official that disband of a demonstration would not take place, force is used against participants of the peaceful protest. Such “cracks” in the regime are seen already, but they do not give way for a constructive cooperation still. By the way, the “packet” of Belarusian authorities itself is not considered as a basis for headway.
- Have you told about a necessity of a dialogue inside the country, between the Belarusian regime and opposition?
- This topic had been constantly discussed by Europeans and Americans. There is a great interest to it. A proposal of a dialogue opens other possibilities. There is an understanding that a dialogue inside the country must happen, as after any possible separate deals the situation in Belarus wouldn’t change for the better. There is an understanding that it would be the most effective way for the regime and opposition to reach an understanding on key issues and steps which could help the Belarusian situation to overcome the deadlock. But I emphasize that there is an awareness of that, but there are other tendencies as well. Unfortunately, recently the leadership of the Lithuanian Republic acts as a direct lobbyist of direct contacts with the Belarusian regime.
A desire of the regime’s “friends” to help the regime to stay the way it is, exists as well. It means that business interests, and some money makers do not care a dime that human rights are violated. These people could rather cynically do business in Belarus, even if for a short period of time, but to their benefit. But such actions undoubtedly bring damage the Belarusians, and those companies and persons involved, as we know that after downfall of dictatorships these companies are sued and lose more than they had gained as a result of behind-the-scenes deals. Many businessmen lose also because they hope dictatorships would keep their promises. But numerous firms who tried to start business in Belarus were back at the bottom of the ladder.
My interlocutors noted the novelty of posing the question about the dialogue. It means they really saw that it is a brand new level of discussion on Belarus’ development. They saw at once that dismantling of dictatorship is meant and not immediate resignation of the regime’s leadership. In other words, the strategy of the dialogue allows many people from the leadership of the country to take part in the democratic transformation of Belarus.
And it really interests both Europeans and Americans. Besides, the readiness of Europe to help in this particular way of Belarus’ development is obvious. It is a readiness to help to establish normal relations with Europe after transformation beginning in Belarus. Certainly the crucial role is to be played by democratic forces here, because they are the people who could say whether something real is taking place here or not. The democratic forces can both evaluate prospects of transformation and warn Europe about danger of any kind of separate deals.
- How the actions of the Belarusian opposition, for instance, holding the Congress of the democratic forces, are estimated by the West at the moment?
- Certainly questions about the upcoming congress were asked as well. But most of serious experts do not understand why these congresses are needed at the present stage, what is the goal, and why the existing coalition should be transformed. In general the political parties and Milinkevich as the leader haven’t quite justified expectations. There was a period of unexplainable passivity. This passivity contracted with a rather big quantity of people who took to the streets on March 25, an April 26. These actions were noticed in the world, but it is clear that the potential of people, who are ready to take part in changes actively, has grown. And the leaders, who had taken the responsibility for realization of this potential, have turned to be not ready for this role for some reasons. And maybe lack of understanding of the congress’ aims is connected to that.
It is recognized that that the idea of a dialogue between the regime and opposition hasn’t been formally established in Belarus in any way. After Alyaksandr Milinkevich’s steps, after the steps of the steering committee on celebration of March 25 international players expected more meaningful actions in this direction, but were disappointed in some way, as it hadn’t been finalized as a serious approach. Though a great number of participants at the rally on March 25 has demonstrated that a vast majority of Belarusians is interested by the topic of the dialogue. The feedback from the official circles of Belarus has showed that as well. In their conversations with officials Europeans saw interest of Belarusian high officials in this dialogue.
- Does it mean that an interest to Belarus lasts?
- I think so. Besides, the changed economic conditions for Belarus, attempts of Belarus to solve the problem of one-sided energy dependence are not remaining unnoticed. But I ought to say that attempts of Belarusian authorities to persuade Europe to support the dictatorship to resist the aggressive oil and gas policy of Russia are not considered as serious. No sensible person in Europe would use dictatorship for increasing confrontation, while real transformations would attract attention of Europeans, as such changes would open opportunities for improving situation in the region, as well as for solving problems with Russia.