Freedom to political prisoners and modernization
Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, EU Commissioner Štefan Füle and former Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz urged Belarus to implement political and economic reforms.
The high officials took part in the seminar Privatization and private business held in Warsaw on 16-17 April. The seminar is a part of a new European Union’s program for Belarus the European Dialogue with the Belarusian society for modernization. Polish and Belarusian experts, political scientists, economists and analysts participated in the seminar.
A charter97.org correspondent reports that the purpose of the European Dialogue with the Belarusian society for modernization is to help the European Union, Belarusian opposition and civil society get a more profound understanding of future democratic Belarus and the reforms necessary for its creation.
The Warsaw meetings are an element of the economic platform of the Dialogue.
The seminar was inaugurated by Krzysztof Stanowski, the head of the Foundation of International Solidarity, former vice Foreign Minister of Poland. He said:
"We have given a lot of thinking to how we can help the Belarusian civil society in this difficult time, when all democratic aspirations and a mere attempt to participate in a voting result in a massacre and prison for most of the candidates.
We ask ourselves a question: what can we do at the moment when a chance for changes appears. We start our meetings with a seminar dedicated to privatization. Belarus is in a very difficult economic situation. Poland’s experience can be useful for Belarus. We are thinking about what practical actions should be taken to improve the situation in the country."
Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski said:
"Every person is born with certain rights: right to live, to choose leaders. When these rights are taken away, people fight for them. We, the Poles, have experienced the bitterness of captivity, and we carefully perceive the voice of the Belarusian civil society. The reflections over an incentive resulted in preparation of this dialogue. The program the European Dialogue with the Belarusian society for modernization was launched three weeks ago in Brussels. The Warsaw seminar is the first in the cycle. Its purpose is to elaborate ways of modernization of Belarus. The implementation of the reforms should begin only when the people of Belarus want it, and only if they implement them themselves. We don’t want to force you, but Poland wants to help.
Belarus is in urgent need of modernization. In the economic freedom ratings by Freedom House, Belarus is on the 42nd place. Reform deadlock, high prices, no perspectives for the young, a very weak flow of investments. The state capitalism leads to corruption, people’s purses are getting thinner. This controlled, “tamed” economy will sooner or later lead to a grave crisis. Market economy, in its turn, helps establish a free state. Poland wants to become Belarus’ companion, and that is why we launch this initiative. Our cultures, history, languages are similar. Poles live in Belarus, Belarusians live in Poland. We should respect the heritage of Solidarność. We must share experience of modernization and democratization. We want the European Union’s exterior border to cause fewer problems to the Belarusian citizens. More than half of all Schengen visas obtained by Belarusians are given by the Polish Embassy. The EU Ministers took a decision that will give a possibility to remove hinders in obtaining visas (sometimes even getting visas free of charge), within the Schengen visa code. We suggest cooperation, we don’t want the border to be a barrier, a so-called “near-border movement”. The agreement was signed for two years ago, and Poland has fulfilled all its obligations. If Minsk had given its consent, all the people who live close to the border would have been able to travel freely to the European Union without a visa. This is more than half a million Belarusians.
It is important to exchange ideas. But there cannot be a compromise in such fundamental issues as human rights violations. That is why we decided to implement sanctions, to protect human rights. We welcome the exoneration of Andrei Sannikov and we are happy that Zmitser Bandarenka has been released. I would like to point out that we will not stop fighting for all other political prisoners. Poland and the European Union are friends of Belarus. We believe in your European aspirations, and we share them".
European Union Commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy Štefan Füle emphasized the difficulties of the transition period.
"Poland played a crucial role in the development of the European politics. During the recent year the relationship with Belarus has worsened. The situation with human rights has worsened too. Such a situation gives us no reason to be optimistic. We had to react to the worsening. We will keep to the present course that includes restructive measures. These measures have been discussed with the opposition. As for now, it is important that all political prisoners of Belarus are released and rehabilitated. The fear has paralyzed the entire country and its people, and prevents its further development. It is vital to create a positive vision of the future of this country, which should be based on a dialogue and modernization of the economy. Our activity can help define the points of intersection and the image of a modern democratic Belarus".
Poland’s former Prime Minister, father of the Polish economic reforms Leszek Balcerowicz criticized the economic situation in Belarus:
"I didn’t hesitate to decide to take part in the seminar. I am very interested in the situation in Belarus. I cannot say what can eliminate political barriers in practice. But let me share my view of the situation. After the collapse of communism in our part of the world in 1989, we all thought we were moving towards democracy and capitalism. But shortly after that, our countries took different directions. Today Belarus, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaidjan are dictatorships often compared to China and Vietnam.
How is it linked to economic changes? Democratic states achieved capitalism. Other countries went backwards. Belarus, where 95% of economy belongs to the state, is a quasi-socialist country.
But the history shows that democracy without capitalism is impossible.
Economic results of the recent years: all non-democratic countries that have not reformed their economies have showed very poor economic results. There is not a single effective socialist state (according to Marx’ philosophy). There are different types of capitalism. Socialism is always evil. Belarus, however, claims it is an exception. But if the country’s subsidies make 60% of the entire GDP, then the Belarusian miracle is nothing more than a myth", Balcerowicz said.