A debate on the situation in Belarus has been recently held In Warsaw.
The debate „Minsk-Warsaw. New opportunities or „the same rake” were held on March 10th between the leader of the civil campaign „European Belarus”, the former deputy foreign minister of Belarus Andrei Sannikov and the former vice-minister of foreign affairs of Poland Paweł Kowal. The Belarusian journalist Vitaǔt Siǔčyk was the moderator of the debates organized by the circle of young diplomats of the University of Warsaw.
Charter97.org provides the most important points of the discussion.
- What motivates the actions of the Polish government and what goals does the Polish government pursue, conducting such a foreign policy towards Belarus?
(Paweł Kowal) - Very simple goals. Looking at the Eastern European policy of Poland, one can say, that relations with Ukraine are deteriorating more and more. Also, we have an enormous amount of misunderstandings and confusion with Lithuania. That is why our diplomats are trying to highlight even imaginary successes in relations with Belarus. These relations are held under the motto: at least somewhere we have success. Therefore, our diplomats are considering relations with Belarus as successful.
Let's return to the starting point, when these relations began to deteriorate. In 2005, the Belarusian authorities created a fake union of the Poles of Belarus, this actually reached the seizure of property belonging to that union, for some time the country did not have an ambassador. Among the countries of the European Union, Poland pursued the most brutal and decisive policy towards Lukashenka.
Despite the improvement in relations with the regime, the problems I mentioned remain unresolved. Of course, nowadays the support of the authorities of this fake union of the Poles is not the same as before, since now it does not play such a big role, however, Lukashenka did not abandon it. So we can say that we have not achieved anything. The issue of political prisoners remains unresolved too. Of course, there are not as many political prisoners as before, but still there are some of them.
Is it possible to say that Lukashenka turned from Moscow to the West? I would not like to discuss whether the Polish policy towards Lukashenka is new. I'm in favor of trying something new. The question is different. Is this policy particularly attractive?
- Do you think that the logic of the Polish authorities has a right to existence, that the closer Lukashenka is to Warsaw - the farther he is from Moscow?
(Andrei Sannikov) - I will answer shortly: no. Geographically, we stay where we always were. Secondly, we will not talk about Lukashenka, let's talk about Belarus. I believe that as long as Lukashenka is in power, there will be no drastic changes. He will never play according to generally accepted rules. And as soon as he receives the money he will return to his master, to the Kremlin. So let's talk about Belarus, how important Belarus is for Europe, for European security, and how important it is not to make the mistakes that Europe has already made, and not only towards Belarus. I mean the EU's attempts to somehow contact with undemocratic, dictatorial regimes through the Eastern Partnership and the Mediterranean Union.
- What needs to happen for the Polish policy towards Belarus to finally change? Can the new repression of the authorities to the protesters change the Poland’s attitude towards Belarus?
(Paweł Kowal) - I think that the policy towards Belarus should be based on two pillars. The first is a kind of a game with Lukashenka for gaining economic benefits, although I do not believe that such relations can be long-term. The situation in Belarus can change quickly. Civil forces will be engaged in attempts to democratize society, attempts to create a round table, at the same time, it is clear that the tension in the society is growing. But as long as there is such an opportunity - I think that Poland should seek benefits in relations with Belarus and take into account the fact that it is not known how the situation in Russia will change. Putin is not eternal.
At the same time, the second pillar of relations should be the support of our projects, independent media. If someone does not like the fact that these projects are connected with the democratization of Belarus and liberal reforms – the projects can be called differently. For example, projects aimed at the dissemination of Polish culture and language, or assistance in training young Belarusian specialists. But in no way should you abandon such instruments of influence. Therefore, I believe that we should use Lukashenka's temporary openness, but at the same time we should use the instruments of civil society. But I believe that it is a mistake to appoint such a huge number of meetings at various levels – there were not so many topics and points of intersection for so many negotiations.
- Andrei Olegovich, do you see the possibility of a round table in Belarus that would be modelled on the round table of Poland in 1989? Can Lukashenka become such a „Belarusian Jaruzelski”?
(Andrei Sannikov) – For Lukashenka it would be difficult to become even Jaruzelski. After all, Jaruzelski was a Pole and he was not ashamed of it. Lukashenka, however, insisted throughout his political career that he was a „Soviet internationalist” and only now he began to remember that he lives in Belarus.
However, the situation for negotiations with the authorities may finally arise. Here, we should rely not on Lukashenka, but on his entourage, who understand that they can lose everything as a result of the social crisis. And we may see that such a situation is currently developing.
I always heard in response that in Poland there was a „Solidarity”, a social movement. But look at it yourself, we have both of them. During all these 23 years, protests are carried out in the country, despite the fact that the opposition leaders were killed or appeared behind bars. The opposition now has millions of supporters. And even his militia does not support Lukashenka. Of course, there is a part of people who are ready for repression, violence, but they are frightened. The question is not whether Lukashenka will settle for negotiations, the question is that so far these negotiations are still possible, and the opposition is still offering such negotiations. This is not an ultimatum, but an understanding of the situation that is emerging in Belarus, the understanding that peaceful changes are possible. To avoid chaos, violence and interference from Russia.
- Do you think that Russia can prepare a „Ukrainian scenario” in Belarus?
(Paweł Kowal) – I believe that when we consider dictators, it is worth talking about their origins, career and personal interests. Comparison of Lukashenka and Jaruzelski is not entirely correct. I believe that one of the main mistakes of Europe and the Belarusian opposition is the underestimation of Lukashenka and his political talent, which he showed. And the situation we have here is the result of the fact that Lukashenka was not taken seriously but just as a kind of incident. For 23 years, he has been showing that he can use the tools of power, but at the same time one should not regard him as a genius politician who is concerned about the future of Belarus. He is concerned only about his personal gain and his children’s wellbeing.
Some dictators are worried about what people will think about them in the future. Therefore, analyzing the dictator, the first thing we should pay attention to is his personal interests. Lukashenka will use this argument in his rhetoric, saying that, allegedly, he should do this because Russian troops will enter. This is a very common argument among politicians in our part of Europe.
Hence, I repeat that we made two mistakes in relation to Lukashenka. The first is the attitude towards him as a politician who cares about Belarus. It is worth remembering that he is an authoritarian dictator. The second mistake is an underestimation, an attitude towards him as the chairman of the collective farm. These mistakes are very expensive for all of us.
- Andrei Olegovich, throughout the evening you have been repeating that the actions of European politicians towards Belarus are late. Now our country is covered by protests. What can Poland do today in order to help Belarus to retain its independence and become a democratic country?
(Andrei Sannikov) - I spoke about the belated reaction of European politicians, but, unfortunately, this policy is carried out not only in relation to Belarus, but also in relation to Ukraine and Russia. And what Paweł Kowal said about Lukashenka's underestimation is true. Everyone treated him as a collective farmer, but at that time he was already killing people. And now everyone has started talking about Lukashenka as a strong politician, but European politicians cannot admit that they are themselves weak. It's the same with Putin. He was considered as an ordinary member of the KGB. And now - this is the main world evil, which won all. There was no idea what was happening in the region. And this is not a simple region, it needs to be studied.
And answering to the question what Poland can do, I will answer – everything. Poland can help us to become an independent country, since it is a real expert in relations with Belarus in Europe. And much depends on Poland’s attitude towards what is happening in Belarus. And now Poland has a unique opportunity not only to support independence and democratic reforms in Belarus, but also to influence the situation in Russia.
Specifically: Poland should stop all these games with Lukashenka. I absolutely agree with my colleague that there were too many political advances and meetings. And we need to prepare as soon as possible for the fact that changes in Belarus will occur, so as not to miss the opportunities that the Belarusian people are providing today.
The opposition offers peaceful negotiations today, and Europe is in close contact with the people on whom the possibility of these negotiations depends. Let's work together to find a solution to this situation. The solution is the democratic elections under the international control. I always say: you will not solve the Russian problem for another 25-50 years, and you will not solve the Ukrainian problem for at least another two decades, but Belarus can be positively changed within just two years.