Europe's Last Dictator Seeks Forgiveness

Belarus is trying to regain the trust of the West, lost in the mid 1990's. Against the backdrop of cooling relations with Russia, there is a "thaw" in the opposite direction (Minsk-Brussels). One notable indicator in this respect was the visit to Minsk of Sinikka Hurskainen, spokesperson on Belarus in the PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) on August 23.

During a meeting with her, deputy head of the Belarusian parliament Viktor Huminski said that Belarus intends to restore its membership in the PACE, lost in 1997. "Sooner or later, Belarus will become an equal member of the PACE," said the parliamentarian. He expressed hope that Hurskainen who has the "kindest feelings toward Belarus and its people" will help with this.

It is worth mentioning that Hurskainen did not disappoint him, and hinted about the need to "continue the dialogue ... to ensure that Belarus becomes a member of the Council of Europe." The relations between Minsk and the EU were on the rise until Alexander Lukashenko came to office in 1994. The measures taken by the Belarusian president to strengthen the vertical of power were viewed by the West as "denial of democracy."

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First, in 1996 Minsk has changed the constitution, and Brussels decided that this led to the elimination of separation of powers in the republic. In 1997, the PACE regarded parliamentary elections held in Belarus "undemocratic," and condemned Minsk for "unlawful pressure on the opposition."

As a result, in the same year, the Council of Ministers of the EU did not extend the Agreement on partnership and cooperation with Belarus, and refused to support its accession to the Council of Europe. This way Belarus has lost the status of "specially invited member of the PACE." The European Union, dissatisfied with the alignment of an authoritarian regime, suspended the intergovernmental ties with Belarus, and froze technical assistance programs of the EU.

In 1998, during the Drazdy conflict, Western diplomatic missions have been evicted from their residences, which further worsened the relations of the republic with Europe and the USA. Following this, the West tried to remove Lukashenko, feeding the "democratic opposition" and accusing Lukashenko in the disappearance of a number of prominent oppositionists. As a result, a number of senior representatives of the Belarusian authorities were denied entry to Western countries.

In 2004-2005, U.S. and the EU froze the assets of President Alexander Lukashenko and Belarusian top functionaries. Although there was no information of millions of "dictatorial deposits," the West persisted in their search.

In March of 2005, the EU announced its intention to fund "the formation of civil society" by supporting the opposition against the "dictatorship" and creating "alternative" media. At times it seemed that the West was about make a decision on military operations against "Europe's last dictator."

The PACE took the most active part in the offensive against Minsk when it condemned the actions of local authorities on the eve of the presidential election in 2006. PACE representatives stated that for Belarus to be a part of the PACE, it had to meet four conditions: to expand the powers of parliament, to introduce the institution of ombudsman, to revise the electoral code and media law. Moreover, Brussels called on other countries of the world to expose the "Lukashenko regime to international isolation."

However, this changed dramatically in August of 2008 after a five-day war in South Ossetia. Ironically, the West began to flirt with the "last dictator in Europe." In October of the same year, Alexander Lukashenko and his closest associates were graciously allowed to visit the countries of Western-style democracy. The reason for this sudden warming was the fact that Moscow has recognized the independence of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali from Tbilisi, and the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Belarus would be very handy for Russia. On the contrary, the West made it clear in every way that Minsk better not do it.

In 2009, the information center of the Council of Europe was opened in Minsk to facilitate the development of relations between Belarus and the Council of Europe. At the same time, Belarus was made a member of the EU project "Eastern Partnership." Lukashenko, in turn, was kind enough to the West to release several prominent opposition leaders from prison. However, he failed to return the country's membership in the PACE, because Belarus did not meet one of the conditions of Brussels - a moratorium on death penalty.

Will it be possible now to restore the old relationship? Pravda.Ru asked the Director of the International Club "Open Dialogue" Gregory Amnuelyu to share his comments on the issue. "By and large, the attitude towards Alexander Lukashenko in the West has not fundamentally changed," the expert believes. "And a change of approach to the Belarusian regime is caused by forced external circumstances. The fact is that the warming of relations between Belarus and the EU is caused by the actions of Russia. The West made its own conclusions of the anti-PR against Lukashenko we saw last week on TV. And this pressure on him, as we can see, has the opposite effect. I am sure that Belarus can and should get a place in the PACE and other European organizations and occupy a special place in the European space," the expert believes.

Belarus periodically receives financial aid and loans on favorable terms from the EU. And, apparently, the "warming" has now affected the political sphere as well. However, given the fact that Belarus and its political system absolutely does not fit into the European unit, we can assume that the development of the country's relations with the EU has certain limits. Whatever it is, so far cunning Belarusian President can play on the contradictions between the great powers.

Sergei Balmasov



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