Monday

16th Sep 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

Analysis

How should the EU handle Russia now?

Should the West help the Russian opposition to try topple the regime, or make new deals with Putin, as France is keen to do?

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  2. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  3. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  4. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  5. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  6. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  7. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?
  8. Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us