The EU must shape at least two different policies towards Belarus – one for the regime that stole the elections and one for the civil society, writes Urmas Paet.
MEP Urmas Paet (Renew) is Member of the European Parliament.
In other words, he’d either find himself in prison or in exile in Russia. That is why the recent so-called elections in Belarus meant more to him than just holding on to power. It was a struggle for his personal existence.
For this reason, the only solution for Lukashenko was to steal the elections. To pretend to organise elections even though everybody knew the results beforehand. The only open question that remained was, how far would the regime allow the opposition to go.
In other words, the results of the so called elections should not come as a surprise. Rather, the question now is, if and how effectively the regime succeeds to muffle the society’s hopes and spirit of protest. And whether the supporters of the Belarusian free society will be once again left alone.
During his reign, Lukashenko has always tried to manipulate with the West, including Europe. This has been especially noticeable during times when Belarus’ relations with Russia have become more turbulent. For example, Belarus was included in the EU Eastern Partnership programme even though Lukashenko has never wanted to approach the Western value system. Instead, he has only wanted money and economic benefits from Europe. In return, he has, from time to time, released some political prisoners but then imprisoned them again in order to have something to bargain with.
Lukashenko has been playing this cynical game with the West the whole time. Mostly, the European Union has fallen for this manipulation and hopes have risen that Belarus will finally change and open up. But Lukashenko and his regime are not going to change because dictators never change. He believes he has crossed the line of no return and he is right. Persistent human rights violations committed during his reign will not allow him to enjoy his old age in peace while watching the tractors on Belarusian fields if he were to step down. Belarusian people will demand justice.
However, for the time being, there is no justice to be found. The recent elections were stolen from the people and opposition will be once again squashed.
Now the question is, if the European Union can do anything in such a situation, and what exactly. For starters, the EU should stop being naive about Lukashenko and his motives.
The Belarusian civil society must receive more support politically, economically, technologically, in terms of capacity of communication, etc. This would help to enable real free elections in the future.
These past few weeks have shown, that there are a lot of people in Belarus who would want Belarus to become a normal European country. That Belarus would join the value system of Europe where it geographically lies.
Thus, the EU must shape at least two different policies towards Belarus – one for the regime that stole the elections and one for the civil society.
Europe must not allow to be manipulated by the Belarusian regime anymore as it has been the case for two decades already. We must help to strengthen the civil society which has already felt hope and freedom. The European Union can make sure these feelings are not muffled by the regime. If the EU’s foreign policy is not successful in its neighbourhood, then where else can we succeed? Remember, timing is everything.