6th May 2021

Business as usual for EU and Belarus despite violence

Diplomatic sources indicate that the EU will not react with any punitive measures to post-election violence in Belarus or to a judgment by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe that the vote was rigged.

Reports indicate that very few people came out on the streets of Minsk on Monday (20 December) following a massive protest by around 20,000 people on Sunday evening which ended in a violent police crackdown and the arrest of hundreds of people whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The OSCE, the Vienna-based pro-democracy watchdog, in its preliminary verdict on the presidential vote said on Monday that Belarus "still has a considerable way to go" to meet international standards, pointing to the vote-counting process as the most corrupt element.

The US state department spokesman later the same day said "We cannot consider the election results yesterday as legitimate" and urged authorities to "release immediately those detained" and "to use restraint in the coming days and not to harm, threaten, or further detain those exercising their basic rights."

The statement by EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton was considerably more weak.

Ms Ashton said the violence was "regrettable ... unacceptable" and noted that the EU's "policy of critical engagement, through which the EU has offered a deepening relationship with Belarus ... is conditional on respect for the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights." She did not call for the release of prisoners or decline to recognise the election result, however.

"You've seen the Ashton line - it means we are going to do nothing," an EU diplomatic contact told this website. "If there had been 100,000 people on the street or some corpses in the square then it might have been different."

EU ambassadors will hold a preliminary discussion on the events in Brussels on Tuesday before issuing a formal statement at foreign minister level once the dust has settled in January.

The diplomatic source said Poland, the main custodian of EU policy on Belarus, a neighbouring country, is not interested in punishing President Aleksander Lukashenko because Warsaw believes it would achieve nothing in terms of democratic transformation or protecting Belarus' independence from Russia.

"The real shock was how many people came out on the streets. In a way, you could say the opposition provoked Lukashenko: If it had been 10,000, he could have let it go by. But with 20,000 or more he had to react," the contact said.

"He's the Fidel Castro of Europe - a real survivor. The regime will not last for ever but there is no credible opposition for now. You have to remember that 500,000 people work for the administration, that's five percent of the population."

"The KGB [Belarusian secret police] has thoroughly infiltrated the opposition. They knew exactly where and when Neklyayev was going to be," the source added, referring to Vladimir Neklyayev, a presidential candidate beaten and abducted by plain clothes officers.

Meanwhile, the incoming Hungarian EU presidency, which is to organise a summit of six post-Soviet countries, including Belarus, in Budapest in May, has not ruled out a Belarusian presence despite Sunday's events.

Hungary's foreign minister, Janos Martonyi, at a briefing in Brussels on Monday said only that Budapest is "following events very closely" and that "if things turn bad, it could create challenges and problems for the Eastern Partnership [the club of six nations due to go to the summit]."

Ms Ashton has on several occasions spoken in public of human rights as a "silver thread" that will run through her European External Action Service. In a behind-closed-doors speech to EU leaders last week she showed a more pragmatic side however, recommending the EU should drop its arms embargo on China because it is an impediment to good relations.

For his part, Mr Lukashenko on Monday derided the protesters as being unmanly for complaining about police beatings. "And you want to be President? You have to bear it!" he said.

He also threatened to publish details of financial donations made to opposition candidates in a Belarus-style WikiLeaks move designed to show foreign hands at work and to highlight the power of the KGB.

News in Brief

  1. Israel study: Two Pfizer doses give over 95% protection
  2. Barnier calls Johnson a 'bulldozer' in Brexit memoirs
  3. Hungary and Poland prevent 'gender' in summit declaration
  4. Draghi: Italy to welcome foreign tourists from mid-May
  5. Germany announces new, stricter, emission cuts
  6. Channel Islands 'blockade' threat in UK and France row
  7. French reporter kidnapped by rebels in Mali
  8. Trump's Facebook ban upheld but with caveats


Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.


Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Greek prisons accused of abusing detainees
  2. EU and US join up against China on Taiwan
  3. Conservatives' Covid-strategy wins in lockdown-fatigue Madrid
  4. Commission drafts new rules targeting foreign state aid
  5. Why Europe should stop worrying about 'sportswashing'
  6. Conference on Future of Europe must listen to local voices
  7. What happens now to the EU's post-Covid recovery fund?
  8. EU turns from China to India on free trade

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us