17 January 2018, Wednesday, 10:12

Paweł Kowal: Europe should prepare for the day when Lukashenka is gone

The European Parliament deputy is convinced that Europe needs a new strategy regarding Belarus.

European Parliament deputy and leader of the party Polska Jest Najważniejsza Paweł Kowal told charter97.org why the European Union left the struggle for democracy in Belarus and what should be done to defeat Lukashenka.

- Obviously, Belarus is no longer interesting for Brussels. Why, in your opinion?

- I believe that European authorities are just tired. They have tried different strategies with Belarus and Lukashenka’s regime, tougher and softer politics. But all these attempts have proved to be unsuccessful. We have never been patient and consequent enough. The European elite is exhausted with testing various methods with no result. Moreover, most politicians don’t see Belarus as an important strategic target and hence many of them simply chose to leave this issue.

- How is it possible that a state in the center of Europe has no strategic value for the European Union?

- On the one hand, it really is a state in the center of Europe, which means that we cannot just ignore the situation there. On the other hand, many European politicians have accepted the idea that Belarus is entirely absorbed by Moscow’s sphere of influence. Political pessimists in Europe treat Belarus as a lost case. That is why nothing is happening. Personally, I am devastated by this passivity.

- But are there optimists who have never stopped fighting for European Belarus free from dictatorship?

- Unfortunately, in the European Parliament such people are few. Belarus is mentioned only when something significant is happening there, for example, presidential elections. But when it is quite in Minsk, it is quite in Brussels. Marek Migalski is the deputy of the European Parliament who really does care about Belarus and is active in this direction. He puts Belarus on the European Parliament’s agenda and tries to sustain at least some interest in the country by talking about political prisoners and outrageous human rights violations. He uses all tools available for a deputy to help the Belarusian civil society. I always support Migalski’s initiatives and projects directed at support of democracy and human rights in Belarus that he presents in the European Parliament.

- What strategy would be most effective for the European Union to use regarding Lukashenka’s regime?

- We obviously need something new, something that could trigger a reload, a beginning of a new strategy regarding Belarus. Will this strategy be successful under Lukashenka’s rule? Frankly speaking, I doubt that. I have frequently emphasized that today we should work with the liberal segment of Belarusian authorities, with those who expect democratic changes, but who cannot show their views openly. A part of incumbent authorities together with the opposition could be at the helm of the new Belarus.

- What was your opinion about the report on the situation in Belarus with human rights submitted by European Parliament deputy Justas Paletskis?

- Initially, the report was far too optimistic and biased and contained information about the progress that the Belarusian powers have achieved in the domain of human rights. Paletskis has evidently relied on the data that he had obtained from the Belarusian leadership. Many deputies of the European Parliament who work with the Eastern European politics criticized the report. Personally I insisted on about 25 amendments.

Yes, I am convinced that we should look for a new strategy, but we cannot ignore the fact that millions of Belarusians have to live with censorship, human rights violation and limitation imposed on small private business. And it is particularly important to remember that there are political prisoners. There cannot be any dialog with Minsk unless they are released.

- The European Union used to have more demands to Lukashenka.

- It is true, and now we have basically only one thing left: release of the political prisoners. But Lukashenka won’t do even that.

- By the way, recently Belarusian political prisoner Ales Bialiatski has become a laureate of the Vaclav Havel award. Can it help sooner release?

- Every acknowledgement of this kind is a help to the people who fight for human rights in hard conditions and who are behind the bars. But before Europe starts to boast with supporting democracy, political prisoners and giving away awards, it should remember that we have done a lot to undermine the Belarusian opposition’s strength. We have made it scattered when we supported several oppositional structures and candidates during the recent presidential campaign instead of prioritizing one political force. I repeat, what we need today is a reload.

- And how can we do that?

- Free elections will never happen with Lukashenka’s regime at power, he will never accept it, and this demand is meaningless. But I believe that we can make him agree to other concessions. For example, he can be forced to launch an oppositional newspaper with large circulation or open an independent radio station. The existing system of independent Belarusian media is insufficient. So if the West wants to achieve a result by opposing Lukashenka, it should, first of all, destroy the information monopoly of the Belarusian state.

Editorial note:

Paweł Kowal is a Polish politician, political scientist, historian and publicist. He was elected a deputy from the party Law and Justice during the parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2007. Between July 2006 and November 2007 – secretary of state of the Foreign Ministry. A deputy of the European Parliament since 2009. Together with a number of other politicians, Pawel left the party Law and Justice and became the leader of a new party Polska Jest Najważniejsza.