The opinion that the situation of human rights in Belarus is improving was immediately undermined by the next conviction, called by human rights defenders a political. The Member of the European Parliament, former Deputy of Polish Foreign Minister Pawel Kowal says that MEPs are amazed by sentence against Andrej Hajdukou.
Pawel Kowal: I was just looking at Justas Paletskis report on the situation in Belarus. I met with the opinion that the regime in the country eased off, that supposedly there is decrease in the number of political repression, compared with the previous years. However, looking at recent events, and the sentence against Andrej Hajdukou, punished without clear evidence, I see that the politically motivated persecutions continue. The introduction of new articles into the Belarusian Penal Code in 2011 was aimed to fight against the opposition and social organizations. And this case again does not improve the image of the Belarusian authorities in the eyes of the West. I notice steps to launch a political dialogue with Minsk, but there still remains a fundamental issue, I would say the requirement of civilization, or a rule – and that is the release of political prisoners.
– What is the specificity of the political situation in Belarus, in comparison with other post-Soviet countries?
Pawel Kowal: I think it is difficult to compare Belarus to Ukraine, Russia, and all the more to Georgia, because the situation in Belarus is, well, ambiguous. There are no democratic processes, and the authorities interfere in the activities of social organizations. The law enforcement and the judiciary system are dependent on the government, I will add to this the existence of censorship. Of course, this situation can be called distinctive, but despite this, dialogue is needed. I positivly respond to the need to dialogue with the authorities. Dialogue is the future of Belarus, but again everything is reduced to the basic principle – to political prisoners. None of the politicians who now enter into a dialogue with Minsk will not be able to clean up and then go back to normal reputation, because it will be on their part a disgrace. The Belarusian authorities should understand this, and we in turn must show willingness to start dialogue. Firstly, however, we expect Belarus to meet the basic requirement, and secondly – departure from standard practice, which is the arrests for dissent. Without it such a dialogue is simply impossible, because no one in the West decides to start a dialogue without fulfilling these conditions.
– Why the Belarusian authorities, knowing about these conditions, behave contrary to common sense? The European Union took a step toward talks – suspended sanctions against the Belarusian foreign minister, meanwhile, Belarus sentenced another political prisoner.
Pawel Kowal: I think the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus should be present at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, if any talks would occur. We have made this possible, but it applies only to conditions. There will be no dialogue as long as there are political prisoners. In general, it seems to me sometimes that the situation is like a game being played by the official Minsk, but Brussels does not engage in such games. I therefore appeal to the Belarusian authorities that they understand that the conditions have been created for them before the summit of the Eastern Partnership to create an opportunity to begin talks and find a solution to get out of this very difficult political and economic situation. The dialogue is possible when all the political prisoners will be released.
– How do you think what Belarusian citizens can and should do to force the authorities to engage in dialogue with the West? How Belarusians can support prisoners and hasten their release?
Pawel Kowal: The authorities are trying to interfere in the activities of civil society, especially trying to prevent the manifestations of solidarity with the arrested, but the most important is the work. It is necessary to gather resources and inform the international media about the situation in the country. Anyone who has a conscience should engage. This applies to fundraising in order to support the prisoners, hiring good lawyers. And the key issue is communication, dissemination of information, because from this begins everything else. It is important to inform public opinion on the situation of political prisoners. This unfortunately is not always possible as, e.g. in Hajdukou’s case, but the more information reaches Belarusian citizens and international opinion it will be easier to counteract.