Is there hope for democracy in Belarus?

As Polish observers join the OSCE mission at the parliamentary elections in Belarus, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meets with Angelika Borys, head of the Union of Poles in Belarus. Is there hope for more democracy in Belarus?

Joanna Najfeld reports

As Polish observers join the OSCE mission at the parliamentary elections in Belarus, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meets with Angelika Borys, head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, still unrecognized by the Lukashenko regime. Tusk assured Borys that Poland supports her and her organization.

This put an end to speculation from several days ago, according to which Angelika Borys was to be informed by the Polish Foreign Ministry, that she should step down from her function for some "geo-political reasons" which should lead to the improvement of Polish-Belarussian relations. Polish Foreign Ministry has already denied these speculations.

Donald Tusk's meeting with Angelika Boris left no doubts: Poland recognizes only the Union of Poles in Belarus headed by Angelika Borys. The Prime Minister reiterated that Borys is the only leader of the Polish movement in Belarus and can count on Poland's full support: 'In Polish-Belarussian relations, when we evaluate the situation of Poles in Belarus, for the Polish side, a reliable reviewer of what is going on in Belarus, will be Angelika Borys,' he said.

Tusk added that one obvious condition for a thaw in relations between Poland and Belarus would be an authentic movement of the Polish minority in Belarus.

According to the Polish Prime Minister, head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, still unrecognized by the Belarussian authorities, proposed a very reasonable way to a wise compromise between Poles and the Belrussian government.

Angelika Borys stressed the the Polish minority in Belarus really cares about improving the relations between both countries. 'The better relations we have, the easier life will be for Poles. But there is still a lot to be done to normalize the situation. A lot will depend on the authorities of Belarus, on their openness and willingness to put forward declarations. Their recognition of our organization, of the Union of Poles in Belarus, will be a proof of that,' she said.

Meanwhile in Belarus, the voting process has been opened for the September 28 parliamentary elections. The law allows citizens to cast votes several days before the final election day.

Observers of the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe have already set out for Belarus, to monitor abuses of democratic processes during the election. Thirty short-term observers from Poland partake in the mission. They were recruited in Poland by the Stefan Batory foundation and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Wojciech Tworkowski, mission coordinator on the part of the Stefan Batory Foundation says that despite Lukashenko's efforts to make the elections look transparent, forgeries and cheating happen most often on the local level. This happens either by forcing people to vote for a particular candidate, or by casting additional votes. 'On the other hand, the result of the vote is also impacted by the extent to which the opposition is allowed to register and openly campaign for their candidates,' said Tworkowski.

The political climate around Belarus improved slightly after the regime released three political prisoners, including Aleksandr Kazulin, and has not recognized the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhasia and South Ossetia. People out there are hopeful, says Wiera Strankowska, a lawyer from Minsk: 'The release of political prisoners gives us some hope for some democratic changes. I think that we are waiting for the changes. We hope very much democratic changes will come to our country.'

Kamil Klysinski of the Center for Eastern Studies, says president Lukashenko may agree to allow some opposition members to the parliament, however, these would most surely be mild politicians, acceptable for the regime.

'President Lukashenko might be succesful in building a nice climate around these elections. He can even make OSCE declare the elections legal, still preventing opposition candidates from the competition. But even if democratic candidates make it to the parliament, they will be carefully selected people, who pose no risk to the stability of the regime,' Klysinski said.

Polish observers of the Belarussian elections will return to the country on the 1st of October.



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