The EU is turning a blind eye to human rights violations so it can use Belarus as a go-between with Russia
Belarus has been in the headlines recently, with Svetlana Alexievich winnig the Nobel Prize for literature a few days ago, and President Alexander Lukashenko re-elected shortly after.
You could say the former is good news and the latter bad; but also that dissent and censorship are magnified by international lenses, held up at different angles depending on who’s handling them and for what reason.
Lukashenko was re-elected with 83.5 percent of the vote on 11 October. The reaction from observers such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was stern – in their view the elections were not democratic.
European Union’s plans to suspend sanctions against Belarus are premature, and linked to the fact that Lukashenko fulfilled a key EU demand when he pardoned six political prisoners in August.
The EU wants Belarus to work as a buffer zone with Russia. Brussels is therefore willing to turn a blind eye to Lukashenko’s poor democratic record and make a U-turn in its policy towards Minsk. The sanctions were imposed due to relentless persecution of dissidents.
The fact that the elections allegedly took place without mass arrests meant that Minsk had passed the test, however low the bar. By suspending the sanctions, European governments are changing their attitude for geopolitical reasons. Lukashenko is needed as a contact man with Russia and as a partner for Ukraine.
The EU – essentially in the shape of its dogged European Council body – is floundering, with knee-jerk reactions now the norm. No clear long-term visions on how to manage the eastern ‘front’ evenly are emerging. The lack of diplomatic gravitas just shows, in all its brutal evidence.
Many years of harsh conduct towards legitimate dissent is quietly being pardoned. The handshake with the newly re-elected President feels like dirt has been brushed under a diplomatic carpet, hushed up and forgotten about.
Svetlana Alexievich’s award acts as a much-needed counterweight to this.
The Belarusian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer, who writes in Russian, has lately been given the Nobel prize ‘for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time’. The first writer from Belarus to receive this award, Alexievich was taken aback by such huge acknowledgement; she enigmatically said: “On the one hand, it’s such a fantastic feeling, but it’s also a bit disturbing”.
Alexievich herself has said that Lukashenko cannot be trusted
Bela Shayevich, the English-language translator of her works, described possible political implications: Alexievich exposed the Soviet and post-Soviet world tragedy, its lack of freedom and the subsequent post-1991 disorientation people experienced.
He quoted the author saying she never ceases ‘to be amazed at ‘how interesting everyday life is’, at the ‘infinite number of human truths’. Listening to the people who lived through some of the greatest political tragedies of the 20th century, she seeks to ‘chase the catastrophe into the framework of the everyday and try to tell a story’.”
On her blog Alexievich wrote:
“If you look back at the whole of our history, both Soviet and post-Soviet, it is a huge common grave and a blood bath. An eternal dialogue of the executioners and the victims. The accursed Russian questions: what is to be done and who is to blame.”
These Belarusian events are a case in point. They simultaneously display how much the EU has become engrossed with finance, bookkeeping and military ideas, nearly forgetting everything else in the process. Direct democracy and human rights have become merely cosmetic, despite all the post-EEC treaties focusing more on people and a supposed Euro-common good.
The EU must delve more into the harsh truth of things and be truer to its professed self, instead of validating a dictator as a viable diplomatic mediator.
Alessio Colonnelli also contributes to openDemocracy, Shifting Grounds and Euro Crisis/LSE. He holds a combined B.A./M.A. in languages and literary translation from Padua University
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