I see European Union as a creative and dynamic initiative.
It is a fellow-feeling and support for weaker brethren - let's offer our hands



MEP Justas Paleckis Office

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Publications in Foreign Media, Speeches

Justas's speech in the S&D group conference on Belarus in EP on 11 May 2010 (2010 05 11)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some kind of containment policy towards Belarus pursued by the EU for some time (which was encouraged by the conservative U.S. president) was not a productive strategy. The restrictions applied to the President of Belarus and his regime was more detrimental to ordinary Belorussians. Let us recall the cold war years. After all, it was due to the cooperation policy between the West, the Soviet Union, and its satellites that allowed the emergence of reformers such as A. Dubček, M. Gorbachev. This accelerated the disintegration of the Soviet empire from inside. Therefore, it was a right step when it was recognized that the isolation policy towards Belarus was not particularly successful and it was abandoned. This happened also thanks to pressure from Belarus' neighboring countries, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and to some extent some members of the European Parliament.

20 kilometres within the Lithuanian border, close to the small city of Astravec, the safety and environmental concerns accompanying the construction of a nuclear power station are new important topics for Lithuanian - EU - Belarus relations.

Polls show that the majority of Belorussians favour integration into the EU rather than into the East. But Brussels in my understanding does not believe these to be competing influences. The EU should welcome the strengthening of Belorussian relations towards both West and East. It is because of such connections to both sides that this country, situated in the centre of Europe, could become even more valuable to the European Union.

Official Minsk declares proudly, that the country's stability is also an asset; there are no frozen conflicts, no confrontation between different government institutions, as it is the case in other Eastern Partnership countries. Belarus opposition responds: changes in the country are unacceptably slow, and government's preached up stability is achieved by repressive measures. There is no real dialogue between NGOs, opposition and officials in Minsk.

Of course, Minsk can go the Beijing way - progressively liberalize the economy, while maintaining political control. Once economic reforms have started, it will be very difficult to stop them. It is important that even the opposition in Belarus recognizes that in the country, the current party in power not only consists of hard liners, but also proponents of reforms who may be potential opposition allies.

In policy terms, Belarus is a small China in Europe, which has refused the official ideology of communism and a one-party scheme. Speaking in economical terms, it is a faulty Finnish model: there are attempts to use great Russia's natural resources and markets. The country's future first of all on relations between the West (the EU) and the East (Russia).

During sixteen years of Lukashenka's presidency, government, with the help of media, created a new Belorussian identity, which has emphasized particular pride of the current period, partly the Soviet years, and even of medieval days of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (of course appropriating it). Many Belarussians now boasts that they are going the third way - neither of European liberalism, nor of Russia's oligarchic capitalism.

On the other hand, of all the countries which 'hatched' from the GDL - Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, part of Moldova and the western part of Russia - Belarus, considering development indicators, would certainly not occupy  the last place. Belarussians were not thrown into the post-communist free market's rampageous quagmire; the country has maintained majority of its social benefits, which are very important for the population. They have maintained their industrial production, agriculture (though dependent on the Russian markets) and a neutral foreign policy (South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still recognized by Minsk). People living in Minsk benefit from widespread construction of social housing and renovations on apartment block buildings (unfortunately, it is not a case in my capital Vilnius).

The Belarusian President has for a long time been promising much to Moscow (but fulfilling very little), it seems that he is now playing the same game with Brussels.

The continuation of the Russian vector in Belarus would be a continuation of a centuries-old tradition and would not be too painful for Belarusians. But Russia no longer wants to subsidize its neighbour with reduced price of raw materials. It is clear that integration with Russia will not happen. Russia has failed to establish itself in Belarus, although the two nations have a great deal of mutual sympathy.

A European vector would lead to a painful modernization for Belarusian people, but it also would direct them toward integration with the EU.

Most likely, Belarus will continue its current trend: the consolidation of sovereignty and the balance between the EU and Russia. Less likely is that Belarus will lead its citizens towards painful modernisation, despite the future potential of integration to the EU and prosperity.

20 years ago, we were able to travel freely to Minsk, Grodno, and Kiev, but to cross the border to Warsaw, Berlin and Paris was almost impossible. Now it is opposite.

I will never forget a very frustrating picture seen in Dieveniškės, Lithuanian village on the boarder with Belarus. One Sunday, a lot of people are gathering near a church, after a few meters there are border fortifications, a high fence. Beyond it, people are congregating as well - relatives and friends of the people from this side of the fence... This new wall - reminds to some extent infamous Berlin wall, just shifted far to the east.

Is it possible to call municipal elections in Belarus real democratic elections? Elections, took place for nearly a week - six days from Tuesday, including the official election date on Sunday, the 25th of April. People were voting for somebody, but, unfortunately, in most cases - without a real choice. Even newspaper "Večernij Grodno" - certainly not the opposition newspaper - rhetorically asked: "Did we choose or they choose for us?" (By the way, this shows the progress made by press in comparison with Soviet times - even such mild criticism was then impossible).

But the most important election will take place this fall or next spring - Belorussians will elect their president. Opposition representatives have said that prior to these events control, repression, intimidation, grows detectably stronger, especially oppression towards the youth.


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