Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Controversy over alleged attack on EU ambassador in Belarus

Information has come to light that the Hungarian ambassador in Minsk was on 19 December hit on the head by police in a development with potentially grave implications for EU-Belarus relations. But Hungary denies the incident took place.

The ambassador, Ferenc Kontra, is currently in hospital in Minsk due to an eyesight problem and was unable to attend a meeting of EU heads of mission from Belarus in Vilnius, Lithuania last Friday (20 January).

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

  • Bass relief on the Church of Saints Simon and Helena in Minsk, also known as the Red Church, where the alleged attack took place (Photo: wikipedia)

Two senior diplomatic sources told this website that Mr Kontra confirmed to fellow ambassadors that he was hit but that the attack is unconnected to his eye problem.

A third source said the incident took place outside the so-called Red Church beside the city's main Independence Square on the fringes of mass protests against Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko on the evening of 19 December. The source said another Hungarian diplomat was hit in the kidneys on the same night outside the Hotel Minsk further away from the square.

EUobserver has learned that the Lithuanian ambassador, Edminas Bagdonas, was also roughed up on the night after going to observe the protests.

The information has provoked anger in some EU capitals. "Even if the [Ferenc] eyesight problem is not linked, I don't think this kind of 'therapy' did anything to help," one EU diplomatic source said. "It's like the police were hunting us."

For its part, Hungary is staunchly denying that the beatings ever took place. "I have checked and there were no beatings. No one was hit," Mr Kontra's deputy, Laslo Darotsy, told EUobserver by phone from Minsk on Monday.

The reports come amid sensitive EU talks on whether or not to impose a visa ban on Mr Lukashenko and to cancel billions of euros in potential economic assistance due to his crackdown on the opposition. The Hungarian foreign ministry has said it is in favour of sanctions. But it is also trying to play the role of neutral mediator in its EU presidency hat.

The EU sanctions debate is coloured by fears that Russia will boost its influence in Belarus if the EU steps out.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last Thursday told press that he is ready to give Mr Lukashenko $4.1 billion in 2011 in the form of oil subsidies and to grant loans for building a $6 billion nuclear power plant in Belarus. "As far as I know, the Russian parliament is not going to pass any declarations, resolutions or other documents [condemning the 19 December crackdown]," he added.

A recently leaked US cable from Karen Decker, the US charge d'affaires in Talinn, Estonia, dated October 2009, gives an insight into Mr Lukashenko's thinking on the EU.

The dispatch says the Belarusian leader at a 90-minute-long meeting with Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet said: "he and several members of the opposition had once been allies who 'drank vodka and womanized together.' However, these people had turned against him (Lukashenko) after he refused to give them promotions."

"Lukashenko also told Paet stated [sic] that the EU's 'ridiculous sanctions' had not weakened Belarus. In fact, Lukashenko told Paet he had specifically ordered his government, 'to do nothing to please the EU' before the EU discusses extending sanctions at the November Gaerc [a 2009 meeting of EU ministers which saw the EU suspend its previous visa ban]," the cable went on.

"He claimed that Ukraine undertook numerous reforms to 'please' the EU and Nato, but that now Ukraine is no nearer membership in either organization and is in economic and political ruin."

The European Commission says that if the EU does impose fresh travel sanctions, they would not automatically cover other members of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone - Iceland, Norway and Switzerland (where Mr Lukashenko likes to ski).

The Swiss foreign ministry in a statement emailed to EUobserver at the weekend indicated that it may take parallel action, however. "Switzerland is closely watching the situation in Belarus and is prepared for any appropriate action," the communique said.

British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule

Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed "profound failure of governance within Facebook", British MPs said, while blaming Zuckerberg for his contempt for democratic scrutiny.

Opinion

EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland

Viktor Orban of Hungary and Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski seem to share the idea that the rights of some may come at the expense of the rights of others, and public institutions should serve the majority, and not all citizens.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  2. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  3. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  4. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  5. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  6. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland
  7. ESA pushback against new EU space agency plan
  8. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us