Monday, 16 May 2005

Belarus' absence

Written by David Ferguson in Warsaw

"The Council of Europe is the house for all European nations and their 800 million citizens, hopefully also soon for Belarus," said Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly president Rene van der Linden. He underlined how the Council and other European organizations are continuing to monitor the state of democracy in Belarus. After the accession process was put on hold in 2001, Belarus has now become the only country in Europe not to be a member of the pan-European organization.

"One European country is missing at this forum. A country whose citizens subscribe to the values of the Council of Europe but who have been robbed of the opportunity to live by them," said Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus. "A neighbor of Lithuania remains a grey territory on the map of European democracies. The Alexander Lukashenko regime is further isolating itself and the people of Belarus from the family of free European nations and the values of democracy."

Together with Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Adamkus argued for greater pan-European efforts to promote democracy in the former Soviet republic. "The Council of Europe gives a particular focus to the initiatives of regional and cross-border co-operation, which are already helping to promote political and economic reforms and civil society in Belarus," said Adamkus. "These initiatives provide an effective instrument for transmitting the know-how to the institutions that are closest to the people and for sharing good practice and experience and executing joint projects."

"The fact that European values have not won their way in this country testifies to our joint failure," the Lithuanian president continued. "On the other hand, this also gives an impetus to work together and help the people of Belarus to build an open and democratic society. It is my firm belief that we will not close our eyes to the attempts at curbing the right of expression of the Belarus civil society."