Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Belarus plays cat and mouse with EU

A 37-year old man who had spent more than a year in a Belarus prison cell for planting an opposition flag on a Christmas tree in 2010 was set free on Wednesday (26 September).

Over the course of his detention Sergey Kavalenka had staged a hunger strike and at one point weighed just 40 kilos. His wife said that prisoner authorities put pressure on him to sign a "pardon" after they sent him to a so-called punishment cell for an alleged prison violation.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Another shake down of opposition people in the street, another day in Minsk (Photo: charter97.org)

Pavel Syramalotau, who was accused of an attack on the office of Belarus' state security service, the KGB, was also released on Thursday.

Eleven political prisoners remain behind bars.

Among them is Zmicer Dashkevich, head of the Belarus "Youth Front," an opposition group whose attempts to awaken society has drawn a large underground following. He was initially sentenced in 2006 but his refusal to comply with authorities has prolonged his captivity.

On 28 August 2012, he was sentenced to an additional year of imprisonment for "insubordination to the colony's administration demands." He has been on hunger strike for the past six days.

Nasta Palazhanka, another leader of the Youth Front movement, told this reporter in Minsk last November that young Belarusians keep a low profile in fear of arrest.

Young people vent their rage against the regime by staging concerts and gatherings in secret locations, organised through social media.

"The last time I was arrested and jailed without any reason," she said.

Belarus prison conditions are dire.

Andrei Bondarenko, a former business owner who ran for parliament, was given a seven-year sentence with hard labour for alleged tax evasion. He said the court had delivered the following verdict: "At a non-specific time at a non-specific place I received from a non-identified person an unknown about of money."

He was released in March 2011 but described the prisons as inhumane.

At first they tried to break him. They placed him at the Zhodzina penal where he refused to sign any confession or pardon. Prison authorities then put him in "a special cell" where new arrivals are beaten or raped by other inmates.

Ten minutes after the guards let in the other prisoners, Bondarenko started cutting his wrists with a razor which he had hidden on himself because he could not stand the brutality of the attack. The guards rushed in to stop him.

"I was unable to defend myself. They knew I was a political prisoner," he told this reporter.

Lukashenka's EU strategy

The EU slapped a visa and asset ban on hundreds of petty officials and on a few people close to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka following a violent crackdown on opposition protests in 2010.

The sanctions are now up for review on 15 October.

The blacklist contains the names of some the country's most powerful people, including Belarus oligarchs and weapons tycoons who bankroll the regime.

For its part, Belarusian Tribunal, a Dutch-based NGO, claims that Kavalenka's release is an attempt to bargain with the EU to ease the sanctions.

"It is expected that within some short time Lukashenka will try to restore dialogue with the EU within this usual strategy of 'geopolitical swing' between Russia and the West," it said.

Meanwhile, lucrative trade contracts between Belarus and Europe remain in place despite the EU's tough talk on Belarus.

The regime declared a €2.5 billion trade surplus with the EU in 2011 after trade increased by some 76 percent between the two sides.

Lithuania, one of Lukashenko's loudest critics, is a major transit hub for Belarus exports, including potash and oil-based products.

Belarus is also vying for another International Monetary Fund loan and aims to resume talks with the Washington-based fund in October.

The fund gave Minsk some $3.6 billion between January 2009 and April 2010, with repayments expected to peak sometime next year.

Opinion

EU-Belarus trade: hands in the cookie jar

EU-Belarus oil trade has helped Lukashenko to cling on to power with billions in foreign currency. So is Brussels ready to put its money where its mouth is?

Opinion

Belarus: Or, how to divide and rule

Personal encounters with Belarus' leading dissidents show the effectiveness of regime tactics to divide and demoralise its opponents.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

News in Brief

  1. Report: EU to increase sanctions on Myanmar
  2. Juncker 'worried' by Italian elections
  3. EU migration to UK at lowest since 2012
  4. MEP Andrieu will chair parliament pesticide committee
  5. Juncker's right-hand man warns of 'institutional blockage'
  6. Greek parliament to open probe on PMs and EU commissioner
  7. May gathers Brexit ministers to hammer out UK position
  8. Tajani asks Juncker for all EMA Brexit relocation documents

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate
  2. Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme
  3. Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?
  4. Poland and Greece broke EU environment laws, rules court
  5. Dutch MPs vote on ending 'Ukraine-type' referendums
  6. Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress
  7. UK seeks flexible transition length after Brexit
  8. Commission defence of Barroso meeting leaves 'discrepancies'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  2. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  4. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  5. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  6. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  9. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  11. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  12. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission