Updated at 11:43,21-10-2020

Will Lukashenko exchange political prisoners for the World Ice Hockey Championship?


On December 3, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Belarus Democracy Act. The law expands the "black" list of Belarusian officials, and calls on the International Ice Hockey Federation not to hold in Belarus the World Ice Hockey Championship in 2014.

In an interview with UDF.BY chairman of the consortium "EuroBelarus" Vladimir Matskevich told why the West is shifting from diplomatic language to sanctions, and what reaction of Alexander Lukashenko may be caused by the rejection to hold the 2014 World Hockey Championship in Belarus.

- How do you think, travel restrictions and financial sanctions are effective against Belarusian officials and security forces?

- This kind of symbolic sanctions have purely ritual character. At the international level there is their own language of communication: diplomatic and subtle. Unfortunately, the Belarusian regime is composed of illiterate, ill-mannered officials, who don't understand the international diplomatic language in the form of statements, notes, memorandums and protocols. Roughly speaking, when our government remain clueless, heads of democratic states have to strengthen their position.

These sanctions are kind of an informational occasion in on order to make clear for the people of one's country and for the country these sanctions are against, the position which diplomats express gently and correctly. They have no other effect.

- The law also calls on the International Ice Hockey Federation not to hold in Belarus the 2014 World Hockey Championship. How seriously is this measure could affect the Belarusian authorities?

- I don't think, the International Ice Hockey Federation will refuse to hold the World Championship. After all, this is not political, but sport organization. However, it would be nice if there was a boycott. This is very powerful, strong and, most importantly, the real sanction. Even the most depoliticized population, which don't read nothing except "Pressball", will understand, there is something wrong when the whole world is boycotting sporting events on its territory. However, if we recall the boycott of Olympics-80 in Moscow, then it was effective for the international public opinion. Inside the Soviet Union the boycott only increased anti-American moods.

- It's no secret that Lukashenko relates to hockey with almost religious fanaticism. Does it mean, the call to refuse holding in Minsk the 2014 World Championship is a direct blow to the ego of president? Perhaps, political prisoners will be exchanged for a sporting event much faster than for loans?

- Refusal to hold the World Hockey Championship is the strongest blow to the reputation and image of Lukashenko. I think, such measures may cause a hysterical reaction from his part, and we will see an unprecedented flowering of anti-Americanism. But if you play this card clever, even artfully, then the real threat of refusal to hold the World Hockey Championship in Belarus can force the president to release political prisoners.