EU remains open for Belarussian nation

Bogdan Zdrojewski says a mild thaw in EU-Belarussian relations might lead to increased social and economic cooperation, however, Europe's position on human rights remains unchanged.

There is a slight change in the perception of Belarus that can be observed within the EU. First of all, today Europe is being tormented with more urgent problems that require solving: the crisis in Ukraine, Greece's economic situation and the threat of a referendum on British EU membership.

Belarus' involvement in the peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv has also shed a different light on the regime, while frequent comparisons of the human rights situation among the eastern partnership countries - both referring to the amount of political prisoners and their condition - have concluded that Minsk is not top of this infamous list.

On the other side, the human rights situation in the country is alarming. Three issues must be raised when talking about Belarus in this context. First and foremost, the EU will stand ever more firmly with its demand for the introduction of a memorandum on the death penalty.


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Second, the release of political prisoners is essential for further cooperation. Last but not least, the freedom of expression for media and equal treatment of Belarussian language in the work of artists and journalists are essential in the context of approaching presidential elections and fundamental for a democratic civil society.

During a recent visit of European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations commissioner Johannes Hahn in Belarus, president Alexander Lukashenko clearly indicated that his priority for EU relations is economic cooperation.

Belarus' economy which is strongly dependent on Russia took a blow after the EU imposed its sanctions on Moscow.

As a result, the worsening economic situation will be Belarus' biggest concern in the near future. It is, therefore, important to establish economic relations, which will naturally bring our neighbours into the orbit of cooperation.

However, although sanctions fulfil a political goal, they don't necessarily impact on society in a positive way. Therefore, the EU should make all efforts to help pull Belarus out of economic, social or scientific isolation.

Youth mobility initiatives, joining the Bologna process and exchange programmes for university and high-school students are only a few possibilities for bringing societies closer together. Similarly, cultural and educational projects, particularly regional ones, contribute to strengthening bonds between communities in borderlands.

One example may be the 'stadiums of culture' project, carried out in Poland in 2011-2012. Social exchange and notable benefits for the country are currently factors that can contribute to stable and lasting relations with Belarus.

Europe cannot afford to treat all its problems with exactly the same attention. The perception of Belarus has improved on the background of other pressing issues we need to face such as migration from African countries or rising extremism.

However, the EU will not compromise on its priorities on the human rights situation and civil society, especially in the context of unjustified persecution.

While the relations with Belarussian government may be tense, it must be reiterated that the EU will always remain open for the Belarussian nation.

 

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