Updated at 19:45,21-02-2018

EU commissioner for European neighborhood policy meets with Belarusian opposition politicians

By Andrey Serada, BelaPAN

Johannes Hahn, the European Unions commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, met with Belarusian opposition politicians in Minsk on Thursday.

Participating in the meeting were Iryna Veshtard, chairperson of the Hramada Belarusian Social Democratic Party; Alyaksandr Milinkevich, chairperson of the Movement for Freedom; Anatol Lyabedzka, chairperson of the United Civic Party; Alyaksey Yanukevich, chairperson of the Belarusian Popular Front; Volha Kavalkova, an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party; and former presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyayew.

In an interview with BelaPAN, Mr. Yanukevich said that Dr. Hahn was well aware of the situation in Belarus and the challenges and threats facing the country.
Participants at the meeting discussed threats to Belarus independence, the situation in the region, the state of the dialogue between Belarusian authorities and the European Union, and the forthcoming presidential election in Belarus.

Mr. Lyabedzka suggested that Dr. Hahn was staying in Minsk not only to familiarize himself with the situation in Belarus but also to decide on recommendations regarding its involvement in the European Unions Eastern Partnership program. The integration of these countries with the EU will probably occur at different speeds, and Belarus will be among the outsiders, he predicted.

According to Mr. Lyabedzka, he told Dr. Hahn that Russia was waging a proxy war in Ukraine and might apply the same strategy against Belarus, however unlikely such a turn of events might appear at present. He also warned the West against recognizing the official results of the forthcoming presidential election in Belarus.

Mr. Nyaklyayew, who resigned from the position of chairperson of the Tell the Truth! movement earlier this month, said that he had been invited to attend the meeting as a representative of Belarus civil society. I think that this is a very timely and reasonable step on the part of the European Union, he said. The government and opposition forces cannot be the only ones participating in such meetings. Their interests do not always coincide with those of civil society and sometimes even contradict them.

Speaking during the meeting, Mr. Nyaklyayew welcomed the EUs commitment to a dialogue with Belarus but warned against extending an olive branch to Belarusian authorities without demanding anything in return. Mr. Nyaklyayew stressed that a dialogue between Belarus and the EU was pointless as long as authorities were refusing to release the political prisoners and squeezing the last juices out of the population. He cited Alyaksandr Lukashenkas recent presidential decree against social parasites, which requires even redundant workers to pay an annual tax at 20 times the Base Rate, or 3.6 million rubels ($245) at present, for making no contributions to the public coffers.

According to the EU Delegation to Belarus, Dr. Hahn is to visit the Belarusian capital city on April 16 and 17 to evaluate the possibility of improving relations between Brussels and Minsk.

An EU commissioner for European neighborhood policy last visited Belarus in 2010. Stefan Fule visited the country in this capacity in July and November 2010.