Updated at 11:25,18-04-2018

Milinkevich speaks out against EU sanctions


The European Union's policy of sanctions against the Belarusian government does not bring freedom to the political prisoners, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, chairman of the Movement for Freedom, said during a conference that was held in the European Parliament on Tuesday to assess the efficiency of the EU's program called the European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus.

The sanctions only increase anti-Western sentiments, diminish the influence of opposition forces, and speed up the "economic aggression by Russia," Mr. Milinkevich said, according to the press office of the Movement for Freedom.

In the past, Belarusian prisoners of conscience were released not as a result of sanctions but after visits by Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for the common foreign and security policy, and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov, who came to Minsk to start a dialogue, Mr. Milinkevich noted. "It was aborted by a provocation by state security agencies with a Russian trace," he said, referring to the December 19, 2010 post-election protest and a crackdown on government opponents that followed it.

Mr. Milinkevich insisted that there was no "positive alternative" to a "critical dialogue" between the EU and Belarus. Europe is tired of the "Belarusian issue" because the weakening of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime does not lead to democratization or make opposition forces stronger, he said. A vast majority of the residents of Belarus are "advocates of change," but they do not know who can bring it about and how, he said. That is why it is crucial to maintain the dialogue, which does not guarantee anything but keeps Belarus' European hopes alive, Mr. Milinkevich said.

Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the United Civic Party, criticized any attempts at a dialogue with the Belarusian government "bypassing" Belarus" civil society. There can be no dialogue for modernization with Belarus without the release and exoneration of the political prisoners and free and fair elections, Mr. Lyabedzka said.

According to the Polish foreign ministry's press office, Deputy Minister Jerzy Pomianowski noted during the debate that the will for change has to come from the Belarusian public, while EU member states should motivate it to pursue such change.

Mr. Pomianowski reportedly tabled specific ideas on how to broaden the dialogue. "Poland suggests extending the dialogue to include new pillars: projects for local authorities in the area of transport, waste management, adapting the infrastructure to the needs of the disabled, as well as training programmes for social workers in different branches, bank workers, teachers," he said. "It would represent a significant step forward."

Mr. Pomianowski expressed regret that the Belarusian government had refused to be involved in the European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus. "The Dialogue was intended to include everyone in the discussion: opposition members, the civil society, as well as, if possible, government experts," he said.

Tuesday's conference had been organized by the European People's Party and the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Belarus, according to the press office of Polish MEP Filip Kaczmarek, who chairs the Delegation.

Apart from Dr. Kaczmarek, the conference featured Gunnar Wiegand, the European External Action Service's director for Russia, the Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, Regional Cooperation and the OSCE; Elmar Brok, chairperson of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Jacek Protasiewicz, vice president of the European Parliament; Jerzy Pomianowski; and a representative of the German foreign ministry.

Belarus was represented by Mr. Milinkevich; Valyantsin Stefanovich, deputy chairperson of a human rights organization called Vyasna (Spring); Volha Stuzhynskaya, head of the Brussels-based Office for a Democratic Belarus; political analyst Andrey Yanoraw; Anatol Lyabedzka, chairperson of the United Civic Party; Alyaksey Yanukevich, chairperson of the Belarusian Popular Front; and young opposition activist Franak Vyachorka.

Launched at the end of March 2012, the European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus is a multi-stakeholder exchange of views and ideas between the EU and representatives of Belarus’ civil society and political opposition on necessary reforms for the modernization of Belarus and on the related potential development of relations with the EU, as well as possible EU support in this regard. The dialogue focuses on four key areas for EU-Belarus relations: political reform, reform of the judiciary and person-to-person contacts, economic and sector policy issues, and trade and market reform.

The Belarusian government has so far ignored invitations to get involved in the program, which was designed specifically for Belarus.

As Andrey Yewdachenka, Belarus' ambassador to Belgium and the country's permanent representative to the EU, told reporters in Minsk last June, Belarus would only work within programs that were jointly developed by the European Union and the Belarusian government.