Monday

16th Sep 2019

Poland: West should use Cold War tactics to free Belarus

  • The Solidarnosc movement in Poland, led by shipyard worker Lech Walesa, brought down the Communist government in the 1980s (Photo: Polish government)

Poland, Belarus' biggest EU neighbour, is urging fellow EU countries to let ordinary Belarusians travel abroad more easily in order to bring about democratic change on the model of Cold War events.

"The reason that we were able to defeat Communism in the 1980s is because so many Poles travelled to the West and saw for themselves what normal life could be like. This is what we should be doing with Belarus," a senior Polish government source told EUobserver in the context of EU talks on how to handle President Alexander Lukashenko's recent crackdown on opposition.

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Between 10,000 and 20,000 people took part in an anti-Lukashenko rally in Minsk in December. But the action represents the country's intellectual elite rather than the mass-scale grass-roots defiance which helped Poland's Solidarity trade union bring down the Communist government in 1989.

Poland and Lithuania unilaterally dropped visa fees for Belarusians in December and are keen for other EU states to quickly follow suit as well as to trigger wider visa facilitation measures in the bloc's Schengen passport regime.

EU countries' ambassadors in Minsk in a joint report drafted last week and seen by this website recommended 14 measures.

One of the proposals says: "EU embassies should be encouraged to issue more visas free of charge to students, cultural workers, journalists etc." Another one says: "the EU should continue the discussions on visa liberalisation for ordinary Belarusian citizens."

Other recommendations include: "immediate cessation of the suspension of the EU travel restrictions with regard to President Lukashenka ... the launching of a new travel ban list with the names of those responsible for rigging of the presidential elections and cracking down on the opposition ... Postponing the tabling of the Joint Interim Plan [an EU-Belarus political pact] ... Review of all running programmes of the EU where Belarus is a beneficiary ... Review of all high level visits to EU member states or to Belarus."

"When the question arises, the EU and its member states should consider opposing the rendering of another IMF loan to Belarus and should consider not to provide macro-financial assistance to Belarus," the report adds.

The widely-leaked paper could put pressure on Italy, Belarus' main ally in the EU, to fall into line, since it is undersigned by Rome's ambassador to Minsk, Arnaldo Abeti.

Belarus' foreign minister, Sergei Martynov, a fluent English speaker and a former Belarusian ambassador to the EU, has meanwhile embarked on an anti-sanctions diplomatic tour.

Mr Martynov at the weekend met with EU neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele in Prague. He was in Brussels on Monday but failed to get a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and is planning to return on Wednesday for a second attempt.

Families of political detainees are at the same time stepping up efforts to secure a tough EU reaction.

Lyutsina Khalip, the mother of one jailed opposition leader, Andrei Sannikov, told the New York Times that authorities have threatened to take custody of his three-year-old son, Danil, in revenge. "Even in my worst nightmares I could not have conceived that this could happen," she said.

Eva Nyaklyaeva, the daughter of another opposition leader, Vladimir Neklyayev, said to be in a life-threatening condition in prison after being beaten-up in the street by masked men, met with German officials in Berlin on Monday and is expected in Brussels later this week.

"I am sick and tired, with all respect, of the analysts who say that in this situation, it is very difficult for Europe or for the West to take serious steps because of the economic situation. To hell with realpolitik. These are human lives now on the line," she told RFE/RFL.

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