Council of Europe pushes Belarus on democracy and reforms

Interview with: Jan Micaleff

Jan Micaleff, President ad interim of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and a member of the Committee of the Regions, and the Council of Europe, found himself seated next to Yury Ambrazevich, Minister-Counsellor for Belarus' Mission to European Communities, at the seminar, and the two talked quietly in between questions from the audience and while other speakers were assessing the situation in Belarus. After the event, Micaleff stopped to talk with NEtv about Belarus' chances for fully joining the European Union's Eastern Partnership and whether local governments in the country could help press for faster reforms and democracy sooner than later.

We were discussing here today a seminar on the local authorities in Belarus. We have heard from the Minister-Counselor, that his country is not a Banana Republic, that they feel that the European Union has slighted them, because they are not an equal full democracy. They say Russia is not either, but Russia has gas and oil. Are we talking about this because Belarus is not a significant trade partner and otherwise we would not be talking about human rights and other issues and democracy in Belarus?

- No, when it comes to the Council of Europe, definitely as I said during my presentation this morning, the heads of state and governments of the Council of Europe: I have said, we look forward for Belarus to become closer to the Europe. We say closer to Europe, because we feel that there has to be a development in democracy. If I take a field in which I work, it is the local and regional democracy; we are looking forward for development of local government on the base of the European charter. European charter, which is uniting principles which you should have in local democracy. We have to have governments, local governments, which are elected by the people, they are elected freely, they have the full autonomy, and they exercise what is best for their citizens. So basically, we are not looking at any other particular issue, which could affect obviously Belarus in terms of economic and financial needs, they may have :. and as we don't have these now, we are side-lining it. Apart from it, we are looking at Belarus as a partner, which we do need, and Europe, because we feel that Europe has to be all democratic as soon as possible.

They feel slighted, they think it is because there are sanctions, suspended, pending, and extended, that they are not really being listened to in the same way you listen to other countries that have more to offer.

-No, when it comes to the Council of Europe, I would say we are and want to be closer. We want to be closer as much as fact that I have met with representatives of the Belarus republic just in March this year, where I extended mine and my Congres's initiative of a project to work closer to Belarus. We want to work together on this project, because if we work together, we can achieve positive results. And by willingness to go to Minsk and discuss with the national authorities how we can implement this project forward. With the national authorities, with the non-governmental organisations within Belarus, a project which is identified in terms of how long this will take, what are : what are we looking at and what are the results which we want to achieve. And basically we can work on this so much as we did in other countries.

The Council of Europe has duly noted the lack of press freedoms and the lack of human rights in Belarus. For a couple of major reasons, it has been suspended at the council for 12 years. Where is the breakthrough? Twenty more years? Twenty-four more years? When are there going to be some concrete results?

-Well, the faster that Belarus would realise that giving the freedom to the press, that :. also the fundamental human rights of the individual, and those commitments once taken by Belarus, would make it very much closer to Europe in the shortest time.

The Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko : the European Union as well, offering participation in an Eastern Partnership. He said that's great but there will be no democratic reforms in Belarus. How do you get past that single major obstacle?

- Well, I believe that keeping all our pressure that Belarus has to open up; we would one time achieve that position. Looking at Europe a few years ago, when Europe was quite different - Europe of the West and Europe of the East. Today, we speak of Europe; we don't mention West and East. We do mention it, when we come to specific countries, like we are speaking about Belarus, we could have spoken of the relation to the other very recent : the other which were members of the Soviet Union

Like the Baltic States:

-completely changed and they are now so well prepared in economic terms to be part of the European Union. So the change has to come not only from the European institutions, it has to come first and foremost of all from the governments of those countries who are willing to see that the power is within the hands of their people and not within their own.

You stressed dialogue and cooperation and conversation even with countries, where there are dissid-ents in jail. So when the United States calls Luk-ashenko the last dictator in Europe? Does that hurt :.

-It is not because I don't believe that when you speak even if we speak directly:that is most important:directly to the person who is causing these:or rather leaving at the gateway this lack of fundamental rights



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