“The Situation in Belarus in the Context of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict” – Conference in Warsaw University

Compromises with dictators are just going to undermine the European Union. A conference “The Situation in Belarus in the Context of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict” was held on December 10, on the International Human Rights Day, in Warsaw University. Among the participants of the conference there were a former ambassador of Poland to Belarus Mariusz Maszkiewicz, the leader of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov, the Executive Director of the European Academy of Diplomacy Katarzyna Pisarska and the head of the informational department of Norwegian Helsinki Committee Berit Lindeman. A professor of Warsaw University Radislawa Gortat was a moderator of the discussion.

The war of Russia against Ukraine has spurred the West to cooperate with dictatorial and autocratic regimes in the post-Soviet space, the candidate for presidency in Belarus in 2010, a former political prisoner Andrei Sannikov said in his speech.

“On this day, the Human Rights Day, first of all I would like to remind about those who are staying in prisons in Belarus, about 6 political prisoners. They are Mikalai Statkevich, Ihar Alinevich, Eduard Lobau, Artsyom Prakapenka, Yauheny Vaskovich, Mikalai Dzyadok. I would also like to tell about Azerbaijan, where my friends, Leyla and Arif Yunus and Khadija Ismayilova, are held behind the bars.

I could not understand what was going on. We rightfully call the events in Ukraine “the Revolution of Dignity”. We speak about the uprisings of Ukrainian people, their fight for dignity, their fight for human rights with respect. All democratic world has supported this fight. But at the same time, these events for some reason have pushed the West to cooperate with dictatorial and autocratic regimes in the post-Soviet space, primarily in Belarus. It resulted in considerable deterioration of the human rights situation in my country.

Today we have gathered here not only on the occasion of the Human Rights Day, but also on the eve of the 4th anniversary of the most cruel crack down on a peaceful protest demonstration against rigged election results. The new wave of repression which started on December 19, 2010, still continues. It is confirmed by a report by Viasna human rights centre published recently, which speaks a lot about tortures in prisons and penal colonies. It speaks not only about tortures against political prisoners, but also about common people, many of which had been imprisoned unfairly. The system of prisons in the country resembles the system of GULAG. Consecration camps for “social parasites” are being prepared, and in reality they are aimed for reprisal against dissenters.

It is impossible to help Ukraine ignoring massive violations of human rights in the neighbouring countries. An attempt to address the issue of the Russian aggression against Ukraine with the help of dictator Lukashenka, who has been in power for more than 20 years, is going to lead to new conflicts, contradictions and problems for the European Union itself. I am convinced that today the EU badly needs new approaches and strategic thinking, which would be based upon principles and values.

Today we see that the desire to help Ukraine, declared by the West in words, is often accompanied by reluctance to make sacrifices, which are minimal sacrifices compared to the sacrifices of Ukrainians who are dying for freedom and independence.

Dangerous processes are going on in Europe. I was shocked to learn about the statement of the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Petr Drulák, that his country should overcome not only the neo-Liberalism of Vaclav Klaus, but also a human rights neo-Conservatism of Vaclav Havel. These are shocking words for a representative of a country, which serves as an example of peaceful democratic changes for everyone. That is why my appeal is do get involved in the European political situation and not forget about Belarus,” Sannikov said.

Mariusz Maszkiewicz, a former Ambassador of Poland to Belarus, was an eye-witness of establishment of the dictatorship in Belarus. as said by him, a great mistake of Europe is that the problem of human rights violations is not paid so much attention to as before.

“Back in the Soviet times, Poland was a committed fighter for human rights in the all post-Soviet space. Not only our historical path allows us to tell our Eastern neighbours Belarus and Ukraine about the importance of European values, but a series of causes. I know Andrei Sannikov since 1994-1995, when he was a deputy Foreign Minister. When I was an ambassador to Minsk (1998-2002), Sannikov already was a dissenter. The goals of the foreign policy of Poland were observation over respect to human rights and support of such people as Sannikov. Since 1994 an authoritarian regime started to be established in Belarus, which in fact was a project of restoration of the Soviet Union.

But today the problem of human rights in the European policy is not so pointed in Europe. While previously, democracy was supported in the first place, now the priority is given to humanitarian projects and development. Some people say that it is an influence of post-Communism systems, influence of economy and business, which had been the foundation for creation of the European Economic Community, and later the European Union, but now break the traditional system of European values. Today the issues of corruption in economic and political structures, of European politicians who start to recognize the Soviet ideology, are extremely popular in Europe. Poland is trying to keep as current as possible the issue of principles and human rights, but it is getting more and more difficult to do so,” Mariusz Maszkiewicz admitted.

Representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Berit Lindeman called to impose sanctions against dictatorial regimes. It is the only effective tool to influence such countries as Belarus, the human rights defender thinks.

“I’d like to go through the sanctions against the regime in Belarus and compare them to the measures against certain post-Soviet countries, especially Russia and Azerbaijan. There is no cooperation agreement between Belarus and Europe. Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe. Contacts with Belarus’s top officials are not maintained. But every time when Belarus faces gross human rights violations we have a programme to support the country and especially civil society. The aim of such measures is to prevent new incidents.

If we talk about Russia, we should remember that the country passed through two wars in Chechnya. The Magnitsky Act against the Russian authorities was in force before Russia’s invasion of Crimea. The sanctions were imposed by the US after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in jail. The EU did not support the restrictions. Europe took economic measures against Russia only this year.

It’s a different story with Azerbaijan. The country has a severe regime with political prisoners. No independent media and civil society were left there. Nevertheless, the country is a member of the Council of Europe and held the presidency for six months.

Ukraine is enormously important for the whole region and the EU that took a course to confrontation with Russia. It resembles the situation with sanctions against Belarus. Historical experience show that the mechanism of imposing sanctions that is equal for all.

In 2010, there was a period of improvement in Belarus ahead of the presidential elections. The sanctions were eased, and you saw what happened in 2010. We need to avoid that situation.

Europe should never believe that Lukashenko and Aliyev can defend Europe against Russia. Sanctions work to keep the pressure up on the authorities of these countries,” Berit Lindeman said.

Katarzyna Pisarska, the director of the European Academy of Diplomacy, thinks compromises with dictators will weaken the European Union rather than bring the expected results:

“Mr Sannikov asks what is going on in the European Union. I think we cannot view the situation in Belarus and Ukraine without the understanding of two processes. The EU policy today is the result of the serious financial crisis that ended in 2007 but can still be felt. The historical stage came to an end. The order that began to establish in 1945 is becoming a thing of the past. We have a crisis on the one hand, and we also don’t have the world leader, which America was. Authoritarian states that are based on intimidation of societies become more aggressive. We see it on the example of the Russian Federation. The other question is what European Union does. The EU is in a financial crisis. It depends on the US military presence and cannot react to external threats. We should remember the Balkan War, understand the current changes in the world and see the strengthening of authoritarian regimes.

The European Union should show a united front in the face of the threat. Strong united Europe is the best partner of the US. A ‘hot war’ has begun, and the victory of democratic forces in Ukraine will bring the victory of democratic forces in Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and other post-Soviet countries. If the Ukrainians don’t win, we will not have even slight influence on the Eastern Partnership countries.

I am concerned about the latest trend. Many European politicians say Belarus is no longer the last dictatorship of Europe, because we now have Russia and other countries. We should remember about such people as Andrei Sannikov, who devoted their life to defending the values that lay in the foundation of the European Union. Any compromises will not give the expected result, on the contrary, they will weaken the European Union. Success depends on whether we will defend these values and help people in Belarus, Russia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, who sacrifice their health and safety for the sake of these values.”