Belarus involvement in EU partnership policy under threat


EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has condemned the recent crackdown on ethnic Polish activists by the Belarus government.

"I am disappointed by the recent arrests of 40 members of the Union of Poles and other civil society representatives in Belarus," she said in a statement.

Belarussian police arrest Union of Poles activist (Photo: Nasha Niva)

Police on Monday (15 February) arrested the leader of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Angelika Borys, along with around 40 other activists on their way to a rally in Valozhyn, in the west of the country. The sweep follows a raid on the union's headquarters in Grodno last week.

"I condemn police action against the Union of Poles and what appear to be attempts by the authorities to impose a new leadership on the Polish community," Ms Ashton continued.

She suggested that the crackdown could affect the participation of Minsk in the Eastern Partnership, a recently-launched EU scheme to boost economic and political ties with six post-Soviet states.

"The EU has demonstrated considerable openness to engagement with Belarus, seen also in Belarus' inclusion in the Eastern Partnership. The success of this engagement is conditional on steps towards democratisation and upholding human rights, including minority rights."

"It is of utmost importance that Belarus abides by its ...commitments in terms of the protection and promotion of the rights of its minorities," she warned. "These developments undermine our efforts to strengthen relations between the European Union and Belarus."

The comments were echoed by the president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, himself a Pole.

Meeting on Tuesday in Warsaw with Aleksandr Milinkevich, a senior opposition figure in Belarus and a laureate of the parliament's 2006 Sakharov Prize, a human rights award, Mr Buzek hinted that the police action could threaten financial support for Belarus.

Mr Buzek reminded Belarus in a statement that it "could benefit from the assistance of the European Union when applying for a loan from the IMF, the EBRD and the European Commission."

"The Belarusian authorities must understand how much might be lost on non-compliance with basic human rights, namely the rules of the democratic world," he added during a press conference with Mr Milinkevich. "We in the European Parliament and throughout the European Union need to have a serious discussion on further relations between Belarus and the Union."

The Polish government has also threatened to use its weight in the EU and IMF to harm Belarusian interests unless it backs off.

"The key thing in this conflict is the successful engagement of EU opinion and the EU authorities. Its extremely important, that the union sees the repression of ethnic minorities, including the Polish minority and other groups and NGOs, as unacceptable," Polish leader Donald Tusk said on Tuesday.

The anti-Polish initiative comes one year ahead of presidential elections in Minsk, with Belarusian analysts saying the country's autocratic leader, Aleksander Lukashenko, is looking to create enemies to help his campaign.


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