25.08.2005 - 09:58 CET

Brussels to fund pro-democracy radio in Belarus

By Lucia Kubosova

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The European Commission is to support radio and internet broadcasting in Belarus in a bid to increase the country's awareness about democracy and human rights.

The programmes - initially provided in Russian, and later possibly in Belarusian - will be channelled through Deutsche Welle Radio, which has been granted a ?138,000 contract for a one-year long project, starting this November.

The coverage will include daily 15-minute news items on current affairs in Belarus, prepared by the Radio's own correspondents, as well as an internet version.

The commission has previously criticised Minsk for repressing independent media and freedom of expression in the country, but played down calls from the European Parliament to provide support for an independent radio station broadcasting from Poland, Lithuania or Ukraine.

The MEPs' scheme was not in line with the rules binding the EU's executive, according to its representatives.

Deutsche Welle project

The funding for the Deutsche Welle project was announced on Wednesday (24 August), along with notification for other civil society-related initiatives financed by Brussels.

External relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the commission will continue to "closely monitor" Belarus' human rights obligations, adding "we are using all the means at our disposal to support those striving for the development of a democratic and pluralist society in Belarus. We are ready to take additional steps should the situation deteriorate further."

The commission is currently trying to set up its representation in the eastern European country, but ministerial-level contacts are restricted and an EU visa ban is in place for some high-ranking Belrusian officials.

Belarus is also listed as a potential participant in the EU's neighbourhood policy, which is aimed at fostering closer ties with the bloc's direct neighbours.

The neighbourhood scheme includes several economic incentives but is tied to democratic development in participating states, with Minsk failing to qualify so far.

On top of this, Brussels started a process in July which could lead to the cutting off of existing trade links with the country by late 2006 by placing EU tariffs on Belarusian exporters.