Peter Kościński: Today’s world should not even know such a term as “political prisoner”

Politicians from European Union countries declare that the situation of  human rights and political prisoners in Belarus is constantly monitored. The official Minsk is being criticized for these matters. Additionally, the West really do solidarize with human rights defenders, says Piotr Kościński, an expert of the Polish Institute of International Affairs.

Piotr Kościński: On the website of international human rights organization Libereco, one may find information that in Belarus there are seven people, recognized as prisoners of conscience who are serving their sentence for defense of human rights. They are human rights defenders, representatives of the opposition, including five people convicted for involvement in the anarchist movement. It is obvious  that the State authorities deny the existence of political prisoners, characterizing them as criminals. The opposition constantly contradicts this interpretation. The existence of political prisoners deeply concerns democratic neighbours of Belarus. It cannot be stated that the situation in Belarus now has improved or is deteriorating. In fact, it is complicated. But it cannot be stated that the situation is good.

– Are Western politicians  well informed about the situation of human rights and political prisoners in Belarus? What measures can be taken by the European Union in order to express solidarity and expedite the release of those convicted for their political views?

Piotr Kościński: The European Union has already made ​​enough steps. First of all, introduced sanctions, including visa restrictions against Belarusian officials and some businessmen. In addition, the European Union has sufficiently clearly indicated that Brussels is ready to engage in dialogue with Minsk. Of course, a prerequisite to engage in dialogue is freedom for political prisoners. Belarusian authorities cannot ignore this demand, or pretend that they do not understand. The more that before the summit of the Eastern Partnership, aimed to take place in November in Vilnius, the EU signals are becoming much brighter. The European Union is determined to start dialogue, but this is impossible, as long as prisoners of conscience are behind bars.

– Can we assume that the Belarusian authorities will hear the signals?

Piotr Kościński: This question should be addressed to the Belarusian authorities. Split in the position of official Minsk is based on the frequent declarations of willingness to begin talks. These types of signals are sent by them sometimes. It is difficult to understand how these efforts are reflected in the reality, the authorities should  release all political prisoners, thereby giving room for dialogue. The EU requirement to release political prisoners does not mean that it is necessary just for the sake of  starting dialogue. This is not the main objective. The issue is a fundamental principle, it is unacceptable to jail people for their political views. And it does not matter which country is in question, regardless of its political system. Today’s world, let alone Europe, should not even know such a term as “political prisoner”.

– Is it possible that Minsk and Brussels cannot find an agreement because of differences in the perception of reality? Can it be, that for the West political prisoners are matter of principle, but for the authorities of Belarus it is just a political game?

Piotr Kościński: It should be noted that the post-Soviet states acquainted themselves with democracy shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Therefore, their functioning in the form of democratic or semi-democratic states is based on a relatively short tradition and little experience. However, it is necessary to continue their education in the field of law enforcement, human rights, civil rights, the functioning of opposition, which all is just one side of the coin. The second side is based on the fact that each country is an independent entity that controls its own legal system. Therefore, interference in internal affairs is not a good thing. By saying that it is a bad thing I do not claim that sometimes it is necessary to do that. Sometimes it is necessary to show the other state  the impropriety of its conduct. Still, it is the other country, so you can only prompt it what is right and what is wrong. On the other hand, you can introduce sanctions, stop trading, close borders. However, it is not allowed to interfere in the affairs of other state, and at the same time replace its citizens by establishing democracy from the outside, so the impact on other countries is quite limited. Democracy, freedom of speech and the release of political prisoners, are the things that first of all should be demanded by citizens.

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