The working group on Belarus met during the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Eastern Partnership.
Politicians and public figures from a range of countries took part in the session: co-president of the PA of the Eastern Partnership, former foreign minister of Ukraine Boris Tarasiuk; chairperson of the working group on Belarus in the Euronest Jacek Saryusz-Wolski; reporter of the EP delegation on Belarus, author of the scandalous report on the situation in the country Yustas Paleckis; deputies of the EP from Poland Marek Sikwiec and Marek Migalski; director of the Belsat TV-channel Agniezka Romaszewska-Guzy; representatives of Euronest delegations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine.
Belarus was represented by the leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka; leader of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Vital Rymasheuski; editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina; deputy chair of the party Fair World Valery Ukhnaliou; chairperson of the Belarusian People’s Front Aliaksei Yanukievich; deputy chairperson of the campaign Tell The Truth Andrei Dzmitryieu; deputy chairperson of the movement For Freedom Yury Gubarevich.
The first part of the session was centered around the situation with freedom of speech and access to information in Belarus.
Chairperson of the working group on Belarus in Euronest Jacek Sayusz-Wolski introduced the directors of charter97.org and Belsat and said that these media, as well as Radio Racja, broadcast over entire Belarus from abroad and today need support from the European Union.
“The EU doesn’t support these media, but they do need EU’s help,” the EP deputy said.
Further, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski suggested that Natallia Radzina and Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy should describe the situation in Belarus.
“First, I’d like to emphasize the importance of the fact that Belarus is represented at the assembly of the Eastern Partnership only by the opposition. Unfortunately, some politicians who urge Europe to cooperate with the dictatorship, have also been invited to the session.
Lukashenka’s regime in Belarus is illegitimate. The dictator is keeping his power with falsified elections and repressions.
Any negotiation or dialog with Lukashenka will be regarded as an indication that the West is abandoning its positions, betraying the ideals of freedom and democracy.
I do realize that today it is common to hold “dialogs” with tyrants and murderers from all over the world. But we should not forget about the people tortured in jails. Let me remind you that political prisoners have been held in Belarusian jails for more than two years,” editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina said in the beginning of her speech.
The journalist remarked that in Belarus the website charter97.org has been exposed to repressions, and its story is an excellent example of what the situation with freedom of speech is like in Belarus. According to Natallia Radzina, today the independent media that work for Belarus from abroad need support, underground press should be developed.
“The murder of the founder of the website Aleg Biabienin, arrests of journalists, searches, confiscations of the equipment. I was arrested on December 19, 2010, on the day of the presidential elections, I was in the KGB jail, risking a 15-year prison term. I had to flee before the trial.
If I had more time I would tell you about the terrible conditions of the Belarusian prisons, or how I was threatened with new arrests for my attempts to tell the truth about the KGB isolation cell or urge the West to impose hard sanctions on Lukashenka’s regime.
The website charter97.org has to operate from Warsaw. But Poland cannot effectively help independent media alone. We need help from other EU countries.
What we do is very important for the Belarusians. Today the situation of Belarus is unique: charter97.org that writes about the political situation in the country is more popular than dating sites and online car dealers. So the need of free information in a dictatorship is extremely high.
In our country, journalists have been murdered, nearly all independent papers have been shut down, independent television and radio have been destroyed.
What do we have today? TV-channel Belsat that broadcasts from Poland and is only accessible for those who have satellite; two radio stations Racja and Euroradio that cannot cover the entire country; and charter97.org with its huge audience, that the powers try to block in state institutions.
Inside the country there are still several newspapers and websites, but they are forced to work in hardest conditions of constant pressure from the powers and blackmailing from the special services. Recently, journalist arrests have become frequent in Belarus. Two of the arrested journalists, Iryna Khalip and Andrzej Poczobut, are serving long prison terms.
Today, the Belarusians need independent media, while independent media, in their turn, need your help. The support of the independent media should be increased because its current volumes are insufficient. Media in the country and media that operate abroad need support, underground press should be developed.
Many EU countries buy petroleum products from Lukashenka. It can be a tool of impact, if Europe puts human rights above its business concerns. But right now we are witnessing a completely different thing, and this is a threat to the values that the united and free Europe is grounded upon.
But I am an optimist. I have seen the power of solidarity. Solidarity together with Europe’s political will can help Belarusians become free very soon,” Natallia Radzina said.
Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy emphasized the importance of the Belarusian media that work abroad:
“It is crucial that the European Union sets its priorities regarding the support right. I believe that one of the first priorities should be the help for the independent media. It is important to help the media that can function. And why can they function? Because their centers are located abroad, and their staff work in the country. I’m talking about the website charter97.org, Radio Racja and TV-channel Belsat. Sometimes we are regarded as mass media that broadcast for Belarus. But we work in Belarus: we work with Belarusian citizens that watch us, listen to us and read us; our correspondents work in the country.
This scheme gives effect because the center is out of the reach of the powers. And they know that their attempts to impede our work will fail. We will keep on working because they cannot reach us. All authoritarian governments stand on the political power, special services and controlled media. So if we want to fight the dictatorship, we should help independent media,” the director of Belsat said.
All the participants agreed that a more effective support of independent media that work in Belarus and abroad is needed.
Only representatives of political parties and movements took part in the second part of the meeting that lasted for about 20 minutes.
After the meeting the politicians told charter97.org what the discussion was about:
Anatol Liabedzka, the leader of the United Civil Party:
“All members of the Belarusian delegation had their own approaches and ideas. I think that everything that we wanted to tell was heard. Before the session of the working group we had met with the deputies of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek, Jacek Protasiewicz and Filip Kaczmarek.
First of all, we said that old mistakes should not be repeated. A consensus with the powers seemed possible during the presidential campaign 2010. We all know what it led to. There is no point in making the same mistake to get the same result.
Second of all, sometimes it is better not to do anything than to do a bad thing. For example. Latvia has invested about one billion dollars into the Belarusian regime through corrupted schemes with dissolvent and petroleum products. This is not an investment to democracy, this is a conservation of the negative state. When before the presidential campaign the IMF had given Lukashenka 3,4 billion dollars for the alleged modernization of the economy the money was spent on bribing the voters.
There is a critical viewpoint of what is called Dialog on Modernization. It seems today that this initiative is tailored to solve the following task: to involve the Belarusian powers into the dialog. And this is wrong. The Dialog on Modernization should be centered around a common Belarusian who should realize that if Lukashenka leaves, nothing terrible will happen, because there is a very good package of solutions for the economic and social spheres. On the contrary, the sooner the regime is gone, the faster positive reforms will bring results.
As for the step-by-step strategy, we have repeatedly emphasized that the first step is to release and rehabilitate the political prisoners, the second step is faire and free elections. This is the order that can give results. If we get involved into an obscure dialog, it will lead us nowhere,” the UCP leader said.
It was also discussed during the meeting whether Belarusian officials will be present at the summit of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius.
“In fact, everyone agreed that this issue relates to the situation in the country. I said that if some political prisoners are released and if free elections are announced, a representative of the powers who is not black-listed can come to the summit. But nobody in Belarus understands. Our colleagues – Aliaksiei Yanukovich, Yury Gubarevich and Andrei Dzmitryieu – are convinced that the official powers should be present. The name of Makiei wasn’t said aloud, but it was implied. But since other participants spoke against, they didn’t persist,” leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka pointed out.
Deputy chairperson of the party Fair World Valery Ukhnaliou:
“The deputies of the European Parliament are definitely concerned with the situation in Belarus. But it seemed to me that there is no united and clear position on what should be done. Everyone’s uncertain, even Paleckis with his weird report that appeared to be his personal initiative, which is not what we were told. I hope that our proposals will help the European Parliament take a decision. There is an understanding that two crucial questions should be solved: release and rehabilitation of the political prisoners, and fair and free elections. These demands must be met, the cart cannot be put before the horse. If these questions are not solved, all talks about modernization and dialog are still just talks. Unfortunately, not everyone here realizes this, but I believe that we’ve delivered this message. Principle issues cannot be neglected, otherwise European values will be at risk.”
Leader of the party Belarusian Christian Democracy Vital Rymasheuski:
“Belarus should be represented in the Euronest and Eastern Partnership, but not by the Belarusian powers, because today they don’t represent the Belarusian people, there are no free elections in the country. Instead, the opposition, civil society and independent experts should participate. The power in Belarus will change, and this is primarily our task. Already now we should create strategic projects and work on programs together with the European Union.
I even tried to explain that today the Belarusian regime sees that the EU is ready to negotiate with the civil society, and creates its own pseudo-independent organization that, under the disguise of the civil society or independent political parties try to take part in different events. But in fact they are only a part of the system. We cannot allow that. The Europeans should understand who is who in Belarus.
Black-listed officials like Makiei cannot be invited to the summit of the Eastern Partnership when political prisoners are still in jails and he personally is involved in falsifications of the elections and in repressions. At the summit, Belarus should be represented by the civil society and the democratic opposition, because today the Belarusian powers are incapable of even listening to what the European Union is telling them.”