Yet another year the President of Belarus is trying to trade in political prisoners with the West. Politicians repeatedly expressed their disapproval of this practice. The question is, at what point the Belarusian authorities have started this political “human trafficking” and why are they successful? Andrei Aliaksadrau, a representative of the British organization the Index on Censorship gave an interview to palitviazni.info.
Andrei Aliaksadrau: Indeed, the Belarusian authorities have started this kind of business long time ago. Currently it is a kind of a business model for the authorities: you take as hostages a few citizens and piece by piece they are being sold to the West in exchange for economic concessions. Europe for a long time grasped the bait. But it seems that this business model has encountered an obstacle. Europe definitely calls for release of political prisoners – a prerequisite for further dialogue on cooperation. Half-measures are no longer valid. It could be seen on the example of last year’s release of Andrei Sannikau and Zmitser Bandarenka. The Belarusian authorities have counted on concessions from the European Union, but the Union still firmly calls for the release of all political prisoners. Another thing is that it actually led to the freezing of the dialogue between the Belarusian authorities and the European Union. The Belarusian authorities continue to refuse to address the problem of human rights in the country and to cooperate with the representatives of civil society. Is it possible to get out of this dead end? This is a question for political scientists and diplomats.
– Do you think that Belarus is a priority for the European Union?
Andrei Aliaksadrau: I may definitely say that today European priorities are completely different. First of all, the attention is focused on solving economic problems. There are questions about the future of the EU itself, of its form, and its potential new Member States. In addition, the EU civil society wants further strengthening of democracy and human rights – just to mention a recent scandal concerning tracking citizens by means of electronic communication. Furthermore, I believe that the question seems to be quite strange. Situation in Belarus should primarily concern the Belarusians themselves, and not citizens of the Union. The same goes for human rights in Belarus. And until these problems will be at the center of attention of Belarusian citizens, it will make no sense to expect from the European Union to be more involved in this issue.
– The issue, however, is based primarily on solidarity. And on the measures that promote and support civil society. Is the European Union able, on its own initiative, to face Belarus?
Andrei Aliaksadrau: Quite often I hear complaints on the part of Belarusian activists and organizations that the European Union does not give sufficient attention to “the Belarusian issue” or give the attention in the wrong way. You can argue on this point, but I would like to cite the facts. Both, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe take quite stringent resolutions on Belarus – much more stringent than, say, those imposed on Azerbaijan, where the situation of human rights is rather worse. We should also mention the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklos Haraszti. This document have been evaluated by the UN Council for Human Rights and all EU countries have supported it. The report once again demanded the Belarusian authorities to release all political prisoners, to abolish death penalty, and to take concrete steps to improve the human rights situation.
The EU assistance for civil society in Belarus is continuing. Therefore, I would avoid focusing on moaning about the bad socio-political situation in the country caused by the lack of support from the Union. I think that the main problem lies in the internal socio-political situation. As for the issue of visas, the European Union could resolve this issue … I’ve seen statistic according to which Belarusians excel in obtaining Schengen visas. If you look at the situation through the eyes of European officials, the problem of inability on the part of Belarusians to visit Europe does not exist as such.
Moreover, the European Union itself proposed the Belarusian authorities negotiations on visas. Sometimes, officials from the European Commission are genuinely surprised that Belarus is the only country that is not willing to start such negotiations. Other countries make great efforts to simplify visa procedures. Belarus, however, not only did not fight for it, but rejects the proposal submitted by the Union. The Belarusian authorities have blocked the dialogue with the European Union for a long time and in a systematic way.