Belarus – is a key country in the regional and European security.
Unique discussion “Geopolitical Situation in the Intermarium Region and Its Impact on Human Rights in Belarus” was held at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw – charter97.org correspondent reports.
The event organized by the civil campaign “European Belarus” was attended by the former Polish Defense Minister Romuald Szeremietiew, Director of the Kalinouski program at the Eastern Europe Institute of the Warsaw University Jan Malicki, leader of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov, the chairman of the Belarusian Social democratic party (Narodnaya Hramada) Mikola Statkevich and the head of the Ukrainian analytical center East European Security Research Initiative Foundation Maksim Khylko.
The discussion was also attended by diplomats from the United States, Switzerland, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and other countries, as well as by representatives of European think tanks and human rights organizations.
While opening the conference, the leader of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov stated that Intermarium is being actively discussed in Poland at the highest official level.
“There are negative and positive reasons for this. A negative reason – is a war that Russia initiated against Ukraine and, I would say, against Europe. Although, this is not the only reason. Europe is threatened by other major challenges, such as migration problem. The positive reason – is the acknowledgement of the serious challenges to the European security and the necessity to find an adequate response to these challenges.
Most of the countries that belong to the Intermarium area have recently made a significant contribution to the strengthening of the European and international security. What I have in mind here is, first of all, enlargement and shaping of the European Union as we know it today. But, unfortunately, not all of the Eastern European countries were able to reunite with Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine and Belarus initially were in a gray area of the European policy, and then found themselves under the authoritarian regimes.
Intermarium concept is not only theoretical. At the end of the fifteenth century, Jagiellonian dynasty ruled the territory between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas, which included the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kingdom of Poland, the Kingdom of Czech and Hungarian Kingdom, part of which was also Croatia. This experience of coexistence, which was further developed in the twentieth century, became the Jagiellonian concept, well-known in Poland thanks to marshall Jozef Pilsudski. Almost simultaneously, a similar concept was proposed for discussion by the prominent Ukrainian historian, statesman, head of the Ukrainian People's Republic Mykhailo Hrushevsky, who promoted the Baltic-Black Sea Federation. In the late 80’s and early 90’s of the last century, the idea of the Baltic-Black Sea Union was actively discussed by the states located between the two seas. In Belarus, one of the leading roles in this discussion was taken by the Belarusian Popular Front.
However, we met here today not to discuss the geopolitics and history. We met to discuss the potential of Intermarium countries to face the security challenges, and also to find ways of further development of Europe, as well as to see how the policies of Intermarium countries can affect the human rights situation in Belarus. Unfortunately, we are witnessing appeasement policy towards the Lukashenka’s dictatorship from some of those countries. In my opinion, this is due to the underestimation of the security threat posed by the dictatorial regime for Eastern and Central Europe, as well as for Europe as a whole”, - Sannikov said.
Jan Malicki noted that the idea of Intermarium always became relevant when the region was threatened by the external danger. He said that there are six basic concepts of Intermarium: from ABC concept (for initial letters of the Polish names of the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas) to the federal concept of Jozef Pilsudski.
“Our region and the whole Europe are currently under threat from three sides: from the East, from Moscow (the war with Ukraine), from the South due to the migration and, in the end, internally due to the management crisis in the EU. Moreover, problems in the EU are only partly related to Brexit. Brexit is only the result of certain processes, caused by a crisis in governance.
These threats are very serious. NATO summit in Warsaw is a confirmation of this. It was decided to hold such summits on a regular basis, and, perhaps, twice a year.
The geopolitical situation in the region has deteriorated. We can ask a question: what goals does Moscow have? This factor will affect our whole region. I believe that the first objective of the Kremlin – is to return the influence in the former Soviet Union. Perhaps, the Kremlin's overtures do not apply to the Baltic States, although I'm not sure.
Russia is coming back to the state that was in the past. And the countries of the region – all the post-Soviet republics, including Baltic countries, and, at a large scale, even Poland – could be forced into the sphere of Moscow’s influence.
I am sure that Moscow will take new steps during the period between the NATO summit in Warsaw and the deployment of NATO troops in our region. None of us can say in which direction it will act. Will it be the extension of military operations in Ukraine, the attack on Latgale, northeastern Lithuania or Transnistria – none of us can predict.
Belarus is very important in this regard. We tend to say that everything in the world is connected with Poland. There was such a joke: “The Elephant and the Polish business”. Today, Belarus can also be seen this way, as such elephant”, - said Malicki.
Kalinouski program director noted that the intensification of EU contacts with Belarusian authorities can lead to a certain improvement of the situation in Belarus, including the field of human rights.
Ukrainian analyst Maksim Khylko explained the growing interest of politicians and experts to the topic of Intermarium by the fact that existing geopolitical alliances are not able to give an adequate response to the security challenge posed by Russia, as well as to the dissatisfaction of some Central and Eastern European countries about the Brussels, or rather, Berlin and Paris’s position towards a number of issues of common foreign and domestic policy.
At the same time, for Warsaw, as well as for Kiev, it is important not to repeat mistakes of the EU, assuring itself that important geopolitical objectives may justify temporary withdrawal of the issues of democracy and human rights on the agenda of relations with authoritarian regimes. Firstly, the idea, that by sacrificing values we can win in terms of security, will not be justified. Military and political commitments of Minsk to Moscow in any case outweigh Minsk’s promises to Warsaw and Kiev. Secondly, while developing ideas of sub-regional cooperation, it is important to remember that without the values any union will lack solidarity, which is extremely necessary for its strength.
“Ukraine can play an important role for the post-Soviet space, as well as for the EU, that is starting to forget about the importance of values – values, that Ukrainians defend with arms. If Ukraine succeeds in reforms, deals with the corruption and builds a strong, democratic state – it will be an example of an attractive model for other post-Soviet countries, including Belarus.
We should not avoid the inclusion of a political component in relations with Minsk. Yanukovych’s example should have persuaded Lukashenka that the crackdown ends badly, and democratization – is a chance for a peaceful transformation of the country. It is necessary to fulfill Minsk’s promises in the field of information and cooperation and to put on the air Ukrainian TV channels – as today Belarusians’ opinions about events in Ukraine and the whole world are formed mainly by Kremlin propaganda. It is important to support independent Belarusian media in their efforts to objectively inform the population about the events in Ukraine and the whole world. We need to promote close cooperation with other countries, especially with Poland, on the level of civil society – NGOs, human rights activists and experts. The main thing here – is not to confuse NGOs with numerous GONGOs – “Trojan horses” of Minsk and Kremlin”, - Maksim Khylko warned us.
Former Defense Minister of Poland Romuald Szeremietiew said that Belarus is a key country, without which it is impossible to solve the issue of security in the region and the whole Europe.
“Many of my friends who had never been interested in international politics, began to ask me: will there be a war?
The process of change of the world order has started. There appeared centers of power, which questioned the leadership of the United States and argued that it is unfair that a single superpower decides on everything. They say that others must also have an impact. And one of those centers that want to change the world order is the Russian Federation.
There is another nation with trends of imperial aspirations in its history – Germany. From the moment when Prussia built the Second Reich, the Germans demonstrated imperial ambitions twice, among other things, attacking the eastern countries.
The concept of Intermarium – is an attempt to build a union that will be strong enough, as none of the nations individually has the potential to counter the threats from Russia.
Intermarium countries should act together to prevent a change in the international order. Otherwise, the situation can end badly. Yes, there may be a war.
I believe that Belarus is still a key country, without which it is impossible to solve the issue of security in the region and throughout Europe. Much depends upon Belarus”, - Szeremietiew said.
One of the Belarusian opposition leaders Mikalai Statkevich told about the threats that are coming both from Russia and from the dictatorial regime in Belarus.
“At a time when Western Europe is going through an identity crisis and this crisis deprives it of the determination and the will to deal with the threats, the Central and Eastern European countries need to think again about the consolidation and mutual assistance.
Does Belarus need this? Of course it does, but we will simply not be allowed to stay neutral. We have two options: either we manage to free ourselves from the influence of Russia with the help of our neighbors and become part of the democratic union, which will make our security more stable, or we will become a „cannon fodder”. Russian generals have always been referred to us as “the Belarusian balcony”. They are ready to fight against the possible association of the objects of their aggression.
We are just discussing the beautiful idea of Intermarium, and they are already preparing to fight against it. No coincidence that Russia has begun deployment of its troops on the border with Belarus in the city Klintsy, which is located at the junction of three borders: Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian. This brigade, if necessary, can come to Mozyr. Along the Ukrainian border behind Mozyr, there are Pripyat marshes – by occupying this small segment of the border, they block all communications between Belarus and Ukraine.
I did not plan to talk about it in my speech, but here there were raised questions about the ability of Lukashenka to protect the independence of Belarus. For 20 years, Lukashenka is doing everything to destroy our independence! The Belarusian economy is essentially a loss-making subsidiary of Russia's economy; cultural policy – is the destruction of all Belarusian, national and historical; information policy – dominance of Russian TV channels. And in the end, human resources policy – is dominated by the pro-Russian, anti-Belarusian personnel in government and law enforcement agencies.
Now Lukashenka cannot fix anything, even if he wanted to. Belarusian nation, Belarusian democratic forces – is the basis of Independence”, - said Statkevich.
The coordinator of “European Belarus”, a graduate of the University of Warsaw Institute of Eastern Europe, Zmicer Bondarenko, said the following during the debate:
“I see that geopolitics is a dangerous thing. Four out of five conference speakers were in prisons in their own countries for their civilization choice.
I would like to return to the “Belarusian elephant” comparison. Relatively democratic Russia did not stand the test of the "Belarusian elephant".
In the 1995-1999, we have heard from our fellow-democrats from Russia, that “democracy will come to you from Moscow, why do you need independence, and, in general, Lukashenka is not so scary”, but it ended with their catastrophic loss. “Lukashism” won in Russia. This is Putin who learnt from Lukashenka, not vice versa. Even hockey – Putin began to play hockey after Lukashenka.
Orange agovernment of Ukraine were the second who did not stand the test of the “Belarusian elephant”, despite the fact that hundreds of Belarusians were on the Maidan in 2004. Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko spoke only with dictator Lukashenka and became his advocates in Europe – and then they lost their power because of this “pragmatism”.
Today the challenge of the “Belarusian elephant” is taken by the new Ukrainian government with Peter Poroshenko, and by Visegrad countries, including Poland.
When you discuss not the human rights in Belarus but the need to trade, I note that in the past six months, hundreds of Belarusian businessmen, including the dictator's closest entourage, went to jail. It is unlikely that Lukashenka wants to replace them with businessmen from neighboring countries.
There are two options: either Belarus will further extend dictatorship in all directions, or the approach will be modified so that the strategic importance of Belarus, mentioned by Romuald Szeremietiew, will be noticed not only by the military, but also by the politicians”.