Buzek calls for review of EU Belarus policy

By Desmond Hinton-Beales - 13th January 2011

Parliament president Jerzy Buzek has said that Belarusian president "Alexander Lukashenko's government lacks democratic legitimacy" and called for a review of EU policy towards Minsk.

Opening the extraordinary meeting of the foreign affairs committee on the Belarus situation, Buzek called for a transparent discussion on how to tackle the alleged human rights abuses of the Belarusian government.

The meeting, which took place in association with the subcommittee on human rights, the delegation for relations with Belarus, and the delegation to the Euronest parliamentary assembly, also contained Belarusian journalists and members of the opposition.

The Belarusian regime has been accused of ballot fixing, illegally imprisoning political opponents, and violence towards peaceful demonstrators in the wake of the presidential elections of 19 December.

Around 700 people have been detained over the last few weeks, and while most have been released, prominent members of the Belarusian opposition face possible 15-year prison sentences.

The head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) diplomatic mission to Belarus, Gert Arens, said that electoral problems had been observed in 2006 and 2008 and that all nine of the opponents who stood in the 2010 election had "no faith in the process".

Winner of the 2006 Sakharov prize Aliaksandr Milinkevich also dubbed the elections "unjust", adding that Lukashenko had failed to achieve the 50 per cent of the vote required to take the presidency.

Milinkevich said that while the lead up to the elections had a "more democratic atmosphere" as the regime attempted to legitimise itself in the "eyes of the west", the government's discovery that its support had "shrunk" had triggered the fierce reprisals.

"Time is not on our side" was the message from EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule, who told MEPs that the EU has a duty to "act quickly and proportionally without isolating Belarusian citizens".

Fule championed a "two phased" approach, saying that although a travel ban for Lukashenko was a "clear option", the EU should explore "positive measures", such as support for civil society, NGOs, independent media, and facilitating visa acquisition for Belarusian citizens.

The efforts already made by Belarusian civil society were acknowledged by chair of the subcommittee on human rights Heidi Hautala, who praised their work in providing "information for investigation" into the alleged human rights violations.

The Finnish MEP also called for closer relationships with the "democratic opposition in Russia" and for the Belarusian authorities to reverse the decision to close the OSCE station in Minsk.

German MEP Elmar Brok informed the meeting of a letter he had received from the Belarusian ambassador in Berlin which claimed that "if Belarus is criticised, then Belarus will look to Russia", before advocating the sending of a fact finding mission to Minsk, if the Belarusian if the leaders of the opposition agreed.

Andrei Aliaksandrau, the 2004 Sakharov prize winner and vice-chair of the Belarusian association of journalists, said "media freedom" is vital, before stressing that an "open public debate" was needed ahead of fair elections.

Aliaksandrau then called for the EU to speak with a "single voice" and "suspend Belarus from the Eastern partnership" and other economic and cross-border cooperation until all illegally detained prisoners have been released.

A joint statement from the parliament president and the foreign affairs committee was read by committee chair Gabriele Albertini, outlining travel bans and asset freezes for all involved officials, financial support for NGOs, the urgent need for a debate in plenary and the foreign affairs council, and for a decision to be made regarding Euronest cooperation.

Buzek brought proceedings to a close by declaring that the EU was hosting the true "victors of the election" and that "psychologically" the opposition held the higher ground.


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