TCS Daily

What Color for Minsk?

By Bogdan Klich - April 6, 2005 12:00 AM

The last months of 2004 saw an unexpected finish of the political season in the countries neighboring the EU to the east. Belarus held a general election and referendum that was falsified and not recognized by the international community. To some observers the style in which that country's regime conducted the polls was an indication of what to expect in the November elections in Ukraine.

Thus we were not surprised by the falsifications, manipulations and irregularities in the election process reported by international observers in Ukraine. Only the active stand of the Ukrainian people -- who were strongly supported by the international community, and by the European Parliament, which played a prominent role from the first days of the protests in Kiev's Independence Square -- resulted in bringing the election drama to a happy end.

The arrival of the democrats under President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko opens a new chapter for Ukraine. It is a great challenge for the country. If Ukraine is to embark on the path set by countries of Central Europe over a decade ago and enjoy EU membership, a lot of unpopular decisions and reforms will have to be taken. Support for the new leaders, now sky-high, will soon come down to a more realistic level. Only a steady policy in the years to come will help Ukraine realize its strategic objectives of euro-atlantic integration, as President Yushchenko described in his address at the European Parliament on 23 February in Strasbourg.

Are the Ukrainian people ready for these sacrifices? Being an evenly divided society are they politically mature enough to follow these goals (in particular the idea of NATO membership)? Last autumn the Ukrainian people showed political and democratic maturity against all odds. In 1989 similar doubts were addressed about the countries of Central Europe. Now, 15 years later, their democratic credentials are unquestionable. I'm convinced that Ukraine can do the same.

The Ukrainian Orange revolution and the earlier Rose revolution in Georgia should be models for other countries -- eastern neighbors of the EU -- in particular Belarus.

The EU as of 1 May has a 1,000 kilometer borderline with Belarus. Developments in Minsk should be of great importance in Brussels. It is in our interest that free market transformation and democratization of the political system emerge in that country.

In the European Parliament we are very critical of the policy of the Commission towards Belarus. It lacks a long-term vision and offers a strictly bureaucratic approach. We see only ad hoc initiatives that react to the situation, but do not stimulate it. We are reactive, and not pro-active.

The European Parliament's specialized body for dealing with Belarus, the EP-Belarus Delegation, which I have the pleasure to chair, has on numerous occasions made it clear what the EU should do in order to weaken the regime. Already after the elections in Belarus last autumn we proposed a set of new measures along these lines: "isolate the regime, support the society".

The EU should increase its efforts to support civil society in Belarus in any way or form. We should provide funding for independent media (a radio or TV station which could operate from Lithuania or Poland) for the people of Belarus, as an alternative source of information. Scholarships should be given to young Belarusians from universities closed down by the regime to enable them to continue their studies in one of the member states. The EU should also expand its visa ban list of regime representatives to member states and freeze the financial assets of all senior officials. These are just few concrete steps to be taken.

Belarus is an old Stalinist type of regime. President Lukashenka has ruled with an iron fist for over a decade now. Nevertheless the situation around Belarus is changing. It's not business as usual anymore, particularly after the Orange Revolution. Young Belarusians travel often to neighboring Poland, Lithuania or Ukraine. At Independence Square in Kiev there were many Belarusian white-red-white (banned by the regime) flags waving. Those young people came back home infected with the virus of democracy and a stronger motivation to oppose the regime.

I'm convinced that Belarus is among the next in line to make a positive step towards democracy. The European model, based on values -- support for democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and human rights -- provides a strong center of gravity. It will move in the direction of Minsk. This process is inevitable.

Regarding Belarus the EU has to build on its constructive role in the Ukrainian crisis. A coherent and demanding position of our community at next year's presidential election in Belarus is the least we owe to the people of that country. They struggle, they risk lives for values which are everyday reality for us. We must not let them down.

The Georgians had the Rose, the Ukrainians Orange as the symbol of their peaceful revolution. What will the Belarusians choose to symbolize their struggle for democracy, freedom and dignity? It is only a question of time to know the answer.

The author is a Member of the European Parliament from Krakow, Poland. He serves on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and is chairman of the EP-Belarus Delegation.


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