Belarusian 'pro-democratic forces' need western help.

The Belarusian quest for democracy is becoming ever more visible and sonorous. Western democracies have been responding to the brutal supression of the opposition forces by the Lukashenko regime, however, with more verbal than practical steps.

Report by Slawek Szefs

Declarations of support are very important, but not sufficient, especially when coming from far off.

Clearly the opposition in Belarus, NGOs and all forces commonly known as civic society require concerted and co-ordinated support. Deputy head of the European Parliament, Janusz Onyszkiewicz from Poland, says a clear message must be sent to the Belarusian people.

' It would be good, if the EU together with the United States, Canada, Switzerland and other like-minded countries would act in unison to support that. What could be done? I think one signal should be quite clearly sent to Belarusian PEOPLE that those involved in falsifying the election and then crushing the protests should be banned from entering both the EU and North America. The other element would be freezing their personal assets. And by banning them from the European Union I don't mean just the Union countries, but also those aspiring to membership, like Bulgaria, Romania or Turkey.'

Janusz Onyszkiewicz adds that another element which would need greater cooperation is co-ordinated material support to organizations and political opposition parties in Belarus.

' This is something the EU has to do. In the United States there is a good instrument of this support - the National Endowment Fund for Democracy. The European Union is, so far, lacking a similar flexible and independent body. Hopefully, this will be done, but it will take some time.'

What else can be done in practical terms, beyond traditional verbal support, to help Belarusian democratic aspirations? Independent political commentator Andrzej Krajewski enumerates two spheres in which this could and should be done.

' First of all, the presence of free media, free journalists in Belarus. It's not easy, of course, but in general media should try to come there, to report, to talk to people, however difficult it is. The second sphere is something which has already been promised by the (Polish) prime minister. It is that we shall admit Belarusian students, those who are now in jail, who will be punished by being expelled from their universities. They will be welcomed in Polish universities.'

Looking at joint international assistance projects for pro-democratic forces in Belarus, what part could Poland play in this action? Janusz Onyszkiewicz is convinced it would have a special role to fulfill on the European scene.

' Poland can obviously play an important role within the EU, increasing awareness of countries and societies to the importance of Belarus, which is a sort of terrible anomaly on the European continent. There is already much greater awareness of the importance of this issue. Poland could also be a kind of stepping stone for various assistance going to Belarus, because we have a host of NGOs in Poland working in Belarus quite effectively. What they need is to have more means. I think that by sharing our experience in the European Parliament and the EU, Poland should keep the issue alive all the time.'

And bearing in mind the decades of Polish experience under totalitarian rule, this society is perfectly aware of the present sentiments and needs of democratic oriented Belarusians.

Experience which it feels morally bound to share.