Recent events in Belarus dominated the "30 years of freedom – successes and failures of Central Europe" plenary session. While most countries in the region can celebrate the anniversaries of their independence, not all of them have succeeded. On the contrary, right behind our eastern border a real dictator has risen.
More worryingly, as Bogusław Chrabota, chief editor of the "Rzeczpospolita" newspaper and moderator of the discussion, noted, Europe, Western countries and countries of the region should have some sense of guilt that they have tolerated the stunts of such a violent politician for years. – And today, Belarus demands freedom and it is our duty to respond to this voice – said Chrabota.
A response to this question is neither simple nor clear. As Aleksander Milinkiewicz, the Chancellor of the Free University of Belarus, emphasised, consistent support of the Belarusian nation is of the utmost importance.
– I do not think that the neighbouring countries are to blame for the situation in Belarus. We are the ones who have to topple the dictator and regain independence without the outside help – stressed Milinkiewicz. – Today our nation is born, suppressed for centuries, in many ways. The revolt of the country's youth is our chance for better future, we cannot jeopardise that. This is our most important mission. When it comes to the reaction of Western countries, we expect consistency. The situation cannot be the same as in previous years, when the Western countries have been forgetting about the Belarusian democrats and leaving them on their own immediately after a single goodwill gesture of Lukashenko. – he emphasised.
The most delicate issue seems to be the question of potential sanctions. – Personally, I would advocate some kind of moral sanctions against Lukashenko and his people. I cannot imagine restrictive economic sanctions, because it would strongly affect the society. We can isolate the dictator but we cannot forget that there are 9 million people in the country – pointed out the Chancellor.
Dirk Niebel, the former Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Assistance in Germany, also admitted that the issue of sanctions is quite complicated. On the one hand, if they will be targeted at the small group of individuals, they will not be effective. But on the other hand, they have to be designed in such a way to give the society enough time to get rid of the dictator on its own, as this is the role of the society.
Falling into Russia's hands
– Lukashenko is described as a disgusting dictator, but there is an even worse version of possible events in Belarus, in which he is toppled not by people but by Russia – noticed Jan Mládek, the former Minister of Business and Industry in the Czech Republic, currently the director of the Czech Institute of Applied Economics. – In this version, someone is placed at the head of Belarus to merge Belarus with Russia, which would not be good. There is an even worse scenario of external force intervention threats. I hope that such a dramatic scenario will not occur. A society that demands freedom, should receive help from Europe, the help for the ordinary people who will change the fate of their country, if not today, then tomorrow. – argued Jan Mládek.
– I agree that far-reaching economic or technological sanctions, which reduce the quality of life, can cause a defensive reaction of Belarusians and result in Belarus falling into Russia's hands – said Borys Budka, member of the Polish Parliment, leader of the Civic Platform. – In a scenario where Europe does not help, Russia becomes a natural partner for Belarus – he explained.
Reforms are essential
Participants in the discussion agreed that economic issues are crucial. – The experiences of Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, a breakthrough period, provide us with a major history lesson. Economic changes are what consolidate the political changes and the changes in freedom. I have in mind the free market, private property and difficult, often criticised in Poland and expensive for some social groups, but necessary, economic reforms. Without this economic foundation we could repeat the Ukrainian or Belarusian model – reminded Borys Budka.
During the discussion, the issues of EU unity and European integration were also debated. Jan Mládek pointed out that the Czech Republic does not intend to leave the EU under any circumstances, but on the other hand, it has no alternative. – It is a bit like a marriage of convenience. It is good and comfortable, but it lacks love and commitment. We have been a member of the EU for 16 years, but we are still considered as new member, and this is how we are supposed to behave – said Mládek.
One voice of the EU?
Dirk Niebel pointed out that in his opinion the EU should become a reliable partner for all members, including the minor ones, so that not all of them have to follow the Berlin-Paris arrangements. A greater integration with other European countries would also be desirable.
– The most important thing to us is that Poland and European Union speak with one voice, as a whole. I know that this is not easy, but it regards democracy and European values. And one more very important thing: We want to make sure that help for us is not decided without us – concluded Milinkiewicz.