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PV 05/04/2006 - 11
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Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 5 April 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

11. Elections in Belarus (debate)

  President. The next item is the statement by the Council and the Commission on the elections in Belarus.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the European Parliament has frequently discussed the issue of Belarus – unfortunately, with very good reason. I would remind you that, immediately following the elections, you held a very serious and very convincing special debate on this matter, in which I also had the honour of participating. The Council, too, has, of necessity, had Belarus on its agenda for some time now, because the country gives considerable cause for concern.

It is tragic, what the people of Belarus are now having to go through, and we must, today, express our solidarity with them. I know that you are doing that, as are the Council and, of course, the Commission. I should also like to join the President in welcoming Mr Milinkevich most warmly and to say how pleased I am that he is here for this debate. I hope that he will draw further courage from the support that all the institutions of the European Union lend to him, his supporters and the brave men and women of Belarus. I would remind you that the President of the European Council, Chancellor Schüssel, spoke of Mr Milinkevich during this morning's debate, saying 'we owe him all conceivable political and economic support wherever it is required'. I should like to emphasise that point here.

Even before the elections, the Council was deeply concerned with the situation in Belarus and had clearly warned the government, in particular President Lukashenko, not to trample on human rights, to respect the people's right and freedom of assembly and their right to demonstrate; it also pointed out, when a minister quite unbelievably threatened to treat demonstrators as terrorists, that the European Union would not accept that. As we know, and as the OSCE/ODIHR observers established, the elections were not democratic. This is most unfortunate, as I remember that some here had expressed the hope that the elections might form a turning point.

The European Union as a whole and the Council in particular can now essentially do two things: first, we must make it clear that we will not tolerate such behaviour. We therefore need to take specific action against those responsible for these events. The Council – and now the European Council too – has, in principle, decided to take appropriate action against those responsible for violations of human rights and of the rules of democracy in Belarus. The Council is now preparing a decision that will realise and implement this. A visa ban will be imposed on a number of people, including the president himself, as the European Council also specifically said in its declaration appended to the conclusions.


The Council is also examining the possibility of further action, whereby it must always be ensured – and I know that you agree with this – that any action taken must not harm the population. We do not want to take any action that harms the people, and not those responsible. That is why the second thing that the European Union can and must do – and the Council has already discussed this, too – is take specific action to help the population. I am sure that Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner will make a detailed statement and list the specific measures that could be taken.

The Member States also have a duty, and I would say this quite clearly to all the Member States: when it comes to giving young people the opportunity to study in our countries, and when it comes to assisting civil society, then, alongside the European Union – and the Commission is taking specific action here – we, the Member States, also have to take quite specific action. As Chancellor Schüssel said this morning, a group of states, including Austria, has already decided to provide special grants for young people from Belarus, in order to give them the opportunity to travel to our countries, to see how democratic countries work, to learn, and to take the message home that the European Union supports them and has not forgotten them. This message that we have not forgotten the people, that we want to help them and that we support them is also absolutely essential.

Finally, we must not grow tired of calling on the government to set at liberty those who have been imprisoned. We must remind them that all that these people have done is to make use of one of their human rights, namely the right to demonstrate and to express their opinion freely. The Council will continue to do this. We will not leave the people of Belarus in the lurch and we will not rest until – as Mrs Plassnik said – Spring arrives in that country.



  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I wish to begin by saying that it is a pleasure to see Mr Milinkevich here. We had a meeting this morning, so the day started well, and I heard directly what is in the hearts of the Belarusian people. Therefore, I think it was very important to have this discussion today, because we all have seen that the events in Minsk confirmed Mr Lukashenko’s determination to win this election come what may. I remember what Mr Milinkevich said to me today, that even if it seems that the elections were won by Mr Lukashenko, in reality the Belarusian people have won and Mr Lukashenko has started to lose the elections. This is very important for the future.

Unfortunately, this was exactly what we had expected. However, what was less expected was the degree to which the pluralistic forces were able to get together. I express my admiration for their courage. We hope that we will be able to continue to give as much support to the democratic forces as we can.

The OSCE/ODIHR official report concluded that the elections clearly failed to meet OSCE standards for democratic elections. This was due in particular to the arbitrary use of state power and widespread detention, a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression, and problems with early voting, counting and tabulation processes. It is clear that we all consider the elections to be fundamentally flawed. We particularly deplore the refusal to admit registered OSCE and EU parliamentary observers, including Members of the European Parliament. We have made this known.

We utterly condemn the violent suppression of protests and the detention of peaceful protesters, including Mr Kozulin, former Polish Ambassador Mr Maszkiewicz, and all the other unknown students, craftsmen and workers who took to the streets to demonstrate.

We fully support what the President-in-Office of the Council said – it is very important that we impose targeted sanctions that will not affect the population but will affect those responsible for the fraudulent elections. We must see what can be done. The Commission is involved in the preparations.

For the future, we must continue our support for civil society. We must continue this strategy, because we want to stand by the people and work for their benefit. However, at the same time, we do not want to work with the government – or at least, we want to work as little as we can with it.

In line with the Council conclusions, support for democratisation will continue through our different assistance tools. We also have been working particularly on the media front, because we know that it is highly important that people take their own decisions. The current TV and radio programmes supported by the EC make an important contribution to democratisation, but also to the EU’s visibility in Belarus, which we have discussed today. There is still much to be done – improvements must be made – but we must continue with those projects. I agree that we will have to see what we can do in looking for ways to support the students who were expelled from the universities. Perhaps not at the next Council, but in the near future, we will establish programmes and the Commission, together with the Council, will certainly support them.

We have already been financing Vilnius University, because Minsk has been closed, and we have tried to give the young people a chance. People-to-people contacts are most important in order to enhance the possibility of working together.

We must do everything against repression, on the one hand through declarations that we officially put out through the Council, and on the other hand by clearly speaking up in our meetings with the Russians, pointing out that we want a Belarus where human rights and the rule of law are respected.



  Bogdan Klich, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (PL) Mr President, it is indeed the case that today’s debate is in effect a continuation of the one held two weeks ago. I would remind the House that on that occasion we passed our test of solidarity with the Belarusians with flying colours. We reacted as was right and proper, condemning the repression and calling for those arrested and sentenced to be released. Most importantly, we supported the demonstrators who were exercising their rights as citizens in October Square. It is also significant that a fortnight ago the Commission, the Council and this House all spoke with one voice. We should continue to do so with regard to Belarus.

The time for political statements is past, however, and it is now time for action. Our diagnosis is complete and the treatment must now begin. This means that the Council and the Commission must take a series of courageous decisions. I am delighted that both Mr Winkler and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner have already mentioned some of these, but I would like to raise a few other issues.

Firstly, if we consider that the elections were undemocratic, it follows that Mr Lukashenko does not have a mandate to hold on to power for a third term. This in turn implies that we must send out a clear call for the Presidential elections to be repeated, as the Belarusian opposition has long been demanding.

Secondly, the list of individuals banned from entering European Union territory should be extended considerably to include various categories of people responsible for violating human rights and freedoms. Consequently, the list must include not only representatives of the local, regional and national administrations but also university Vice-Chancellors responsible for expelling students who demonstrated, and editors responsible for propaganda in favour of the regime.

Thirdly, visa policy on Belarusian citizens should be relaxed as soon as possible. This would enable us to implement our principle of not isolating Belarusian society whilst isolating the leadership. Belarusians need to be able to travel more easily and it is therefore essential for us to facilitate the visa process for them.

Fourthly, we must make our voice heard at international organisations such as the UN and the OSCE, and call for the release of political prisoners. A Polish diplomat, Mr Maszkiewicz, is currently being held as a political prisoner in Minsk and I was glad the Commissioner mentioned him today. I trust the Council will act quickly to ensure he is released at the earliest opportunity.

Fifthly, it is essential to put Belarus on the agenda for the next EU-Russia summit, because Russia is in a position to bring political and economic pressure to bear on Belarus and this could serve to relax the regime in that country. For its part, the Union can put pressure on Russia to encourage it to exert its influence on Belarus in such a way. The Council must ensure that the instruments at its disposal are used appropriately to this end.

Lastly, if the monopoly on information is to be broken, we certainly need to support radio stations and future television stations broadcasting to Belarus. It is also important to act sensibly in this regard, however, and I therefore appeal for no more funds to be wasted supporting initiatives that do not reach the people of Belarus.



  Jan Marinus Wiersma, on behalf of the PSE Group. (NL) Mr President, on behalf of my group, I too should like to extend a warm welcome to Mr Milinkevich, presidential candidate from Belarus, and, in fact, through him, to greet, and express my support to, the opposition and all dissidents in Belarus, particularly those who have been arrested and imprisoned.

It was already said two weeks ago that we cannot accept the outcome of the elections as the outcome of a free and democratic process. Paraphrasing what the Commissioner said, I should like to add that Lukashenko did not win, but the people in Belarus were the losers. That is an important conclusion to draw. We also have to establish that Lukashenko cannot claim democratic legitimacy and that is why it is a good thing that the European Union has taken visible action. By imposing a visa ban on him, we have given him the message that, as far as we are concerned, the sooner he goes, the better, and he can certainly not count on our recognition. We do not want to see him, or talk to him again. That is the first point I wanted to make. I agree to the visa ban being extended to include other authorities and personalities in Belarus. We must think carefully about how we can take this as far as we can, and we are awaiting suggestions from the Commission and Council to this effect.

We could also consider our options with regard to freezing assets in order to get to the governing elite in Belarus. It is important to establish here today that we must hold firm to all the conclusions we drew after the elections in Belarus. We must constantly follow the developments in that country. I was involved in Belarus for five years myself, as predecessor of Mr Klich and chairman of the delegation. Whilst the previous presidential elections were obviously rigged as well, attention for Belarus visibly dwindled after a couple of months. We owe it to each other, as an institution but also as Parliament, to continue to focus our attention on that country without any let-up.

I was pleased with the Commissioner’s remark about the dialogue with Moscow. I would also like to hear from Mr Winkler what his opinion is of the way in which we can add this item to the agenda in meetings with Russia, because – as I have already said – the congratulations by Mr Putin to Lukashenko were delivered incredibly promptly again.

It would be good, where further measures are concerned, to persuade the Commission and Council to think outside the box. What can we come up with, in addition to existing instruments, to promote contacts between people here and people there? For example, it is for us MEPs very difficult to travel to Belarus. What specific, creative measures can we take in order to establish this human contact, the practical support for people in Belarus in one way or another? I should like to finish off by saying that we must persevere and certainly not create the impression with Mr Milinkevich and his people that we will leave him in the lurch. We must persist and focus as much attention as we muster in this House.



  Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, I have to say, with all due respect – for I realise that the Council is already using relatively strong language as it is – that the statements disappoint me to some extent. It is still unclear when, and in what way, the proposed sanctions and measures will actually be carried out by all Member States, including the Commission.

Extending the visa ban on government representatives is, of course, wonderful, but what to do with judges, police officials involved in ill-treatment, and suchlike? Will a visa ban be imposed on them too? What happened to the idea of launching, simultaneously and with immediate effect, a flexible policy with regard to cheap visas for the ordinary Belarusian citizens and particularly for students? Or to the idea of freezing foreign assets, better gearing the financial programmes to the specific situations, supporting the independent press and so on and so forth? When and in what way will something be done about this? Ultimately, fine words will not get us very far. It is wonderful when we express solidarity in words, but what we need is concrete action. What I was looking forward to hear were dates, statistics, timeframes and hard facts.

Moreover, as Mr Wiersma pointed out a moment ago, Russia’s role remains underexposed. Mr Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his victory without as much as batting an eyelid. He is also the man who keeps the wheels of industry oiled with his cheap supplies of raw materials. At the end of April, we will know whether Mr Putin will continue to apply the bizarrely low gas prices to Belarus. Everything will depend on the interest which Russia pursues in Beltransgas, the Belarusian company. Economic gain is thus the objective.

I would once again like to urge the Council and the Commission to spell out clearly to Mr Putin what the EU stands for. We must now crank up the pressure, not least in connection with the G8 energy summit to be held in St Petersburg in mid-July, but the Council is so far adopting an extremely cautious attitude. I would therefore ask the Council whether it is scared that taking a clear stand might conflict with other priorities, such as its own supply of energy?



  Elisabeth Schroedter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Mr President, I should like to start by warmly welcoming, on behalf of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, our guests from Belarus, Mr Milinkevich and Mr Viachorka. Our group has the greatest respect for the achievements and the courage of the active opposition movement in Belarus. Despite threats of violence, you protested against the election fraud in peaceful demonstrations. We also believe that Mr Lukashenko no longer has any legal claim on power, and we admire the independence, calm and clarity with which you, Mr Milinkevich, dealt with the difficult situation in October Square and Kupala Park. Many congratulations on this achievement!

We saw in the television reports how the peaceful demonstrators were brutally detained by the police. For many of your supporters, arrest, imprisonment and expulsion from university were the results of simply exercising their right to free expression, a basic right that goes without saying in the countries of the European Union. However, we believe that they are the new power in the country and can bring democracy and economic recovery to Belarus. We hope that the spirit of freedom will stay alive in Belarus.

Mr Winkler, thank you for taking on board many of our requests. When imposing the visa bans, though, please do not leave out those who detained the demonstrators in such a brutal way. They must go on the list. Please also remember – as others have already said – that Mr Putin supports Mr Lukashenko and that this fact must be a focus of discussions with Russia.



  Jonas Sjöstedt, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (SV) Mr President, our political group believes that the election in Belarus was undemocratic. A variety of methods was used to prevent the opposition from operating as they might reasonably have expected to. The media is controlled by the Lukashenko regime. All this is made clear in our motion for a resolution. In this situation it is important for surrounding countries to have close contacts with democratic forces in Belarus, such as national movements and free trade unions. The people of Belarus must not be isolated. In spite of Lukashenko’s antidemocratic methods, there is still significant grass-roots support for him. This is partly due to the relative social equality and relatively high degree of social protection in the country. However, social protection, which is of course a good thing, can never excuse restrictions on democratic freedoms and rights.


  Konrad Szymański, on behalf of the UEN Group. (PL) Mr President, on behalf of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group I too would like to warmly welcome Mr Milinkevich and Mr Viacorka to the House today. It is my earnest hope that the day will come when you will be able to take your own seats in this Parliament, gentlemen.

We know full well what to think about Mr Lukashenko’s dictatorship. Europe no longer has any doubts or concerns regarding a policy of isolation, confrontation with the leadership and at the same time, openness to the Belarusian people. Our noble plans will come to nothing, however, if we do not take on more political responsibility for the future of Belarus. If we delegate too much of the responsibility for the process of change to Russia, our efforts will be in vain.

Democracy under Russian patronage is bound to be half-baked, just as it is in Russia itself. Too much Russian involvement in the process of change will impede essential geopolitical changes in the region. Political and economic stability cannot be achieved without changes of this nature and without genuine links between Belarus and Europe. Accordingly, not only do we need instruments to provide immediate aid to the opposition, but we also need a broad political plan for a new Belarus, and we need it now. Such a plan must allow for Belarus to take its rightful place in Europe.



  Jan Tadeusz Masiel (NI). – (PL) Mr President, it is worth remembering that strange though it may seem, the European Union and Poland do have a common border with Belarus. In addition, Europe, Poland and Belarus share a common history and I trust a common future too.

This House has recently done a great deal to support the emerging Belarusian democracy. Mr Milinkevich and Mr Viacorka who are present amongst us today believe that the dictator’s end is nigh. We should not wait for future elections. Now is the time for us to help strike the coup de grâce against the system which is opposing democracy by force.

Belarusians are an exceptionally peaceful and patient people. Democracy is developing amongst them only slowly, but when it does come about the European Union can be assured that Belarus will prove a trustworthy partner and guarantor of peace for many years to come.


  Camiel Eurlings (PPE-DE). – (NL) Mr President, I too would like to extend a warm welcome to Mr Milinkevich. It is not only a great honour to have him here in our midst, but also very important that he should be here, for this is not only a moment of fear and threat, but also a unique moment of hope. Mr Milinkevich spoke wise words on the 19th: the people of Belarus have lost their fear, and President Lukashenko is right to be fearful, for even the most armed dictator cannot stand up to the heroic courage of a people that will no longer be gagged.

We in Europe should now send the right signals. That means that we must give priority to restricting the visa regime and freezing assets, and that we must also look into a different direction. We must offer opportunities to students and to those people who cannot remain in Belarus. We must ensure that they can study over here and be prepared here for a new and democratic Belarus.

Could I also ask you to consider a sanction in the area of arms exports that will hit the Belarusian President where it hurts? The President extracts much of his funds from the arms export. One to two billion annually, and a good deal of those funds serve to line the pockets of the President and his cronies. In terms of arms exports, it may be a good idea to persuade Europe and its allies to take tough sanctions, also with a view to preventing the President’s funds from growing any further, while this will not affect the people. There is little we can do to prevent the arms exports from Belarus.

As chairman of this House’s delegation for relations with Russia, I should like to make one last observation. Every country is entitled to favour certain candidates or certain governments. That is also true of Russia, but what is unacceptable is that a member of the OSCE should simply ignore the conclusions of OSCE observers. The OSCE has stated that the elections are neither free nor fair, and Russia cannot respond by saying that they are fair and by simply congratulating President Lukashenko. It is therefore important that this should be added to the agenda of our meeting with Russia and also to that of the G8 summit. It is all well and good that President Putin should urge President Lukashenko to prevent violence, but it is not enough, not by a long shot. If Russia wishes to present itself as being a democratic country, then it must fall in with the community of values of Europe and uphold democracy and human rights.



  Monika Beňová (PSE). (SK) Nobody here can doubt the undemocratic nature of Mr Lukashenko’s government. I too welcome Mr Milinkevich and join my colleagues in supporting the Belarus opposition.

However, verbal support alone will not suffice, and therefore I think we should take other measures as well. Some measures can be taken by the Commission, some by the Council and some by us as Members of Parliament. These measures must include ways of raising awareness amongst the Belarus people, since an informed civil society is one that is better able to see through important changes. As an MEP from the Slovak Republic, a country that faced a similar situation over many long years in the past, I can certainly confirm that this is the case.

I also believe that it is necessary to consider the question of visa requirements very carefully, as we will certainly not be raising the awareness of the Belarus people if we prevent them from travelling to EU countries and seeing a different picture to the one portrayed by Mr Lukashenko via his media.


  Janusz Onyszkiewicz (ALDE). – (PL) Mr President, the general opinion within the European Union is that we have only limited possibilities for exerting pressure on Mr Lukashenko’s regime, because the Union only plays a minor role in Belarusian politics and economics. This is not the case at all.

In 2004 Belarus exported 10% less to the European Union than it did to Russia, but last year it already exported 12% more to the Union than it did to Russia. Clearly, the European Union is becoming an increasingly significant factor in the Belarusian economy. There are therefore good grounds for us to believe that we can really influence events in Belarus.

Mr Klich has already mentioned specific ways in which we could exert our influence. I simply wish to make one point. Mr Lukashenko has taken action to make it difficult for Belarusians to travel out of the country. Additional charges have been imposed. It is not easy for young people to travel abroad and obstacles are even placed in the way of people wishing to leave the country to obtain medical treatment. In response, we need to do more than facilitation, and here I have in mind the criteria for granting visas. We need to go much further. We should reduce the financial resources threshold and the cost of visas. We could even go as far as introducing free visas. In conclusion, I would like to emphasise the need for us to change our approach. With regard to financial support for Belarus, a number of obstacles should be removed. I appeal to Mrs Ferrero-Waldner to enlighten us about the nature of the formal obstacles preventing us from acting in a flexible manner, if indeed there are any such obstacles. This House will help. I shall leave you with a maxim, ladies and gentlemen. As the English and Americans say, we should put our money where our mouth is.


  Vytautas Landsbergis (PPE-DE). – Mr President, as election means the presentation of alternatives, acknowledgement of them and afterwards a deliberate choice – the candidate who appears better is elected – it is not something for dictatorships. The procedure of voting in circumstances eliminating de facto any free choice should not be called an election. What happened recently in Belarus was only a vote, which, along with the counting of the votes, was in the hands of the government of the eternal incumbent. He was not given any democratic legitimacy. Who is Mr Lukashenko today? He looks more and more like a governor appointed by the ruler of all Russia to undergo once more the well-known dishonest procedure of a fraudulent vote and to continue his experiences on the spot.

We have to state here that the new post-Soviet tri-electoral military union of consolidated dictatorships in Moscow, Minsk and Tashkent is not the way to a better future for the three states and nations.

We have seen the birth of a new democracy in Belarus as a European-linked, not Eurasian, country. Therefore, as Russia itself now prefers post-Soviet authoritarian nationalism to any ‘orange’ renovation there is a growing danger that Belarus will be forcibly merged with Putinist Russia, the basis for which was laid down in advance. All the world is to be warned about it.

If we do not want Mr Milinkevich to disappear forever, as happened to leaders of the opposition in Belarus several years ago and as is going on in Chechnya every day, the resolution on Belarus sets out the right step, which is first to call on the UN to set up an international commission to investigate previous crimes of the terrorist regime in Belarus, so as to prevent new ones today. Vincuk Viacorka is here today, temporarily released from jail. But nobody knows what might happen there any day.


  Joseph Muscat (PSE).(MT) Our work in the immediate future must be characterised principally by persistence and insistence. The Minsk regime hopes that, in time, the Belarus story will fade in importance in the international media. They hope that Europeans will forget the agonies of this people, our brothers. This must not happen, and we, as the European Parliament, have a duty to keep the memory of these events alive and to be the conscience that acts as a reminder even to the other European institutions so that no one forgets the cry of these people. As I said during the last part-session, I am happy to note that attention is being given to my appeal to the effect that we should look after students sent away from their Universities because they took part in demonstrations and for whose education we have to provide in our country. Moreover, we should go further. I am also pleased that the proposal that assets be frozen has been accepted. This is one of the proposals made by the Delegation for Relations with Belarus a long time ago, and I am sure that a look at the action plan we put forward more than a year ago would reveal more proposals. Mr Milinkevich, we will never allow you to disappear.


  Árpád Duka-Zólyomi (PPE-DE). – (HU) We are facing a complex situation after the presidential elections in Belarus. We must be aware of the fact that having won the election, Mr Lukashenko feels that his position is secure. In the following years, he will put even more effort into trying to consolidate his power. In this respect we should remember a very important factor: the Russian connections, the close cooperation between the Lukashenko regime and the Russian Federation, and the dependence of the Lukashenko regime – and Belarus – on the Russians in the economic and energy sector. Consequently, if the European Union is seeking an effective solution, one of the important things it should do is to include this topic in the agenda of the bilateral negotiations with Russia.

International pressure must also be increased. In this respect, the NATO press release of 31 March deserves attention. Not only Mr Lukashenko, but all representatives of his administration, too, must be isolated to the greatest extent possible. The conditions of various grants must be made explicit and strictly checked, and we must consistently avoid becoming, even accidentally, participants or supporters of the success and consolidation of the Lukashenko regime.

One of our priorities is to provide the Belarusian democratic forces led by Mr Alexander Milinkevich, as well as the civic organisations, not only with moral support, but also with well-considered, concrete financial assistance. Primarily, it is the Belarusian nation that needs to be woken up and informed – by television, radio, on the Internet and by other means – of the fact that this is not the face of true democracy, of a state founded on the rule of law. Inviting two representatives of the Belarus opposition, Mr Alexander Milinkevich and Mr Vincuk Viachorka, who had been imprisoned, was an excellent initiative; let the dictatorial regime know that we all give our full support to our two guests. I trust that you will all support the resolution proposal tabled before us.


  Aloyzas Sakalas (PSE). – (LT) I support the position taken by Mr Winkler and Mrs Wallner and for my part would like to stress four points. Firstly, as the elections in Belarus were unfair, then legally Lukashenko is not the President and cannot be afforded this title in any European Parliament documents. Lukashenko should not be called President in this Chamber either. Secondly, in order to fight the indoctrination of the Belarusian people being carried out by media, which is controlled by Lukashenko, television programmes have to be broadcasted continuously from Lithuania, Poland and even Ukraine to the whole territory of Belarus, not just part of it. Television, not radio, has the greatest impact on people's consciousness. Thirdly, we must use all means possible to strengthen the united Belarusian opposition. And fourthly, we must constantly remind Russian President Putin that part of the reason why the Belarusian regime has not yet collapsed is that it is supported by Russia, and it is responsible for this.


  Barbara Kudrycka (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, 10 years ago a fine story by the Belarusian writer Vasil Bykov was published. It was entitled Fall in love with me, soldier. In this work the author describes – symbolically, of course – how Belarus identifies with European civilisation, espousing a similar system of values and thus rejecting ideologies based on hatred.

On October Square, the Belarusian people demonstrated that they had recognised the blanket government propaganda spreading lies and fuelling untruths about Europe for what it was. For a couple of days, that square became freedom’s bridgehead from which appeals went out to the Belarusian people urging them to assert their national identity. In its efforts to rekindle national identity, the opposition was assisted by the creative talents of prominent figures from the world of Belarusian culture and literature. I could mention Vasil Bykov, Uladzimir Arlov and Slawomir Adamowicz. Even young people involved in contemporary pop culture lent their support. It is therefore incumbent on us to debunk the myth generally accepted in Europe according to which Belarusians have been Rusified to such an extent that they have no interest in regaining their separate identity based on their own particular culture, language and national symbols.

What specific aid can the European Union provide for this purpose? The EUR 2 million the Commission has allocated to the free media is but a drop in the ocean. It does not amount to much compared to the USD 60 million devoted this year alone by President Lukashenko to widespread propaganda, indoctrination and government media.

In addition to support for the free media and independent journalists, funds are needed for other purposes, and I shall mention just a few of these. Aid should be provided for independent publishing houses publishing in the Belarusian language. I have in mind not only support for political and research publications but also for Belarusian literature. Scholarships should be made available for Belarusian researchers and for those engaged in the creative arts such as writers, poets and painters, so they can survive and continue their work. There must also be scholarships for the students expelled from centres of higher education and for students who do not wish to go into the government system and become totally indoctrinated, choosing instead to attend private centres of higher education in Belarus or apply to European ones.

The only way to respond to regimes that imprison individuals simply for writing a poem is by providing extensive support for freedom of thought and creativity. In conclusion, and with regard to determining the methods and entities for awarding financial aid to free Belarus, I urge the Commissioner to include in the relevant decision-making bodies people with a good knowledge and understanding of Belarus, its circumstances, problems, and national identity which I mentioned earlier.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, today, this House has once again sent out a strong message, and your contributions have shown something that I regard as quite vital, and for which I am grateful, namely that you support and acknowledge the efforts of the Commission and the Council. It is important for the European Union to speak with one voice on this matter and to send the right signal. The Council and, I am sure, the Commission, too, will continue to work to this end.

Mr Klich and others after him raised the issue of exerting influence on Russia. I would remind you that the declaration appended to the European Council's conclusions already explicitly states that we need to find ways of getting our international partners, and in particular Belarus' other neighbours, involved in this debate. There is absolutely no doubt that this matter obviously also needs to be raised with Russia, an important neighbour of Belarus. You can be assured that the Council will not avoid this subject in its dealings with Russia – we have just had a debate on human rights, and there will be other opportunities for this. We were also asked, hopefully rhetorically, whether we were afraid. All I can say to that is no, we are not afraid. We know full well what our values are, and we quite clearly stand up for them.

Many of you pointed out that the relaxation of visa rules must apply specifically and concretely to those people who we want to receive here and show how western democracy works. That is, of course, inseparable from certain administrative issues. We are working on it – we want to invite the right people and give them the opportunity to come here. Conversely, it has also been demanded in the debate that we must put the right people, namely those responsible, on the visa ban list.

The distinction between the visa ban that was already in place before the elections and the current situation is that, previously, only officials were affected, whereas we are now doing exactly what many of you called for: we want to target the politicians responsible. Somebody asked what the Council was going to do next week, on 10 April: we will, to be quite specific, adopt such a list, and then there will be no further barriers to implementation.

The Council will also look into other possible sanctions and measures, in which connection we really must be very careful not to take any action that ultimately does the opposite of what we want to achieve. We must not put people at unnecessary risk through our actions. We want to protect them, including Mr Milinkevich, and we want to send a clear signal that we are on the side of the population and those people who are exercising their rights.

You can therefore be assured that the Council will continue to work very seriously and vigorously and very specifically on those measures that are ultimately of use and that achieve the goal for which we are all aiming, namely democratisation and the inclusion of this country in the EU's neighbourhood programmes. That, at the end of the day, is what this is all about. We must tell the people, and show them, that it is to their advantage for the conditions to be met, so that this country too, just like Ukraine and other countries, can be included in the European neighbourhood programme.

Another goal is for this country to join the Council of Europe, for it is the only one still not a member of it. That is not possible at the moment, because only countries that are willing and able to respect the human rights laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights can join the Council of Europe. The intention is that Belarus should, one day, be able to do that, and the Council will continue to work towards that goal.


  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I think the key message here was that we would like to be able to include Belarus in the Neighbourhood Policy. That is what we would like to do, with all the benefits for the population and the country. Let me answer a few of those specific matters brought up again in the discussion.

Regarding Belarus, we are granting support to NGOs registered outside Belarus for activities benefiting Belarus through the EIDHR, the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, and that is not natural because, according to our rules, normally we can only work with NGOs inside the country, so we have tried to find a flexible solution. That flexibility will be continued over the coming years. An additional EUR 420 000 will soon be made available to NGOs located outside Belarus under the same instrument, and calls for proposals are there.

Our future assistance tools that will replace the EIDHR and decentralised cooperation for the next period under the financial perspectives will allow for assistance to be granted outside Belarus. And we are currently finalising a proposal for our assistance strategy for the coming years.

The media project was mentioned. It was very important to start with the media project that we financed. We financed five components of the media: TV, radio, the internet, support for the independent written press and the training of journalists over the next 24 months. We will have to continue with that. The daily radio broadcasts and the weekly TV programmes for Belarus started in February and immediately – I would say, two weeks after we had signed the contract – we tried to do everything to make the population of Belarus aware of that. Both the radio and TV components will keep providing independent, reliable and – we hope – very balanced information on Belarus, as well as on the EU, on the diversity of its 25 Member countries, and on our relations with Belarus. We, the Commission, will keep on developing synergies with other donors in the scope of this project, and radio programmes are now broadcast by a number of technical providers, via both FM and AM waves – I know that is another concern – and via the internet, which includes downloading options.

On the question of visa facilitation, we know that this is something that has been requested. The general approach on visa facilitation that was adopted by the Council in December last year stated that, as opposed to readmission agreements, visa facilitation shall not be offered to third countries proactively. Despite this general common position, we are looking for possibilities to facilitate people-to-people contacts between the European Union and Belarus through measures waiving visa fees on an ad hoc basis. It is not yet decided, but it is in the pipeline. In that respect, the existing acquis and measures under preparation already provide for the appropriate marges de manoeuvre for Member States to hopefully waiver visa fees for visitors from Belarus.

Finally, on the question of students, we are very much inclined to facilitate access of Belarusian students to its universities. We fully share the view expressed by many of you that students have to be helped, not least because they have been the platform, the basis and the bulk of those who have protested peacefully after the elections, but also because the cementing of democracy will rest very much on their shoulders. Therefore we can facilitate access of the students to our universities, provided that all the Member States and the Commission pull their forces together and provided that we can find some sort of coordination between Member States and us, and I think the Commission would be ready to do that.

This will also require financial efforts, which we are ready to consider. We have the Tempus and Erasmus programmes and, along with efforts made by the Member States, I think we can do a lot.

Finally, on Russia, as Mr Winkler has already said, Russia is always clearly a topic in political dialogue because we speak about our common neighbours. These include the South Caucasus, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. President Barroso spoke with vigour on 17 March and reminded President Putin of our well-known position on democratisation but also warned that we would not accept violence on election day. There was no bloodshed during the elections on election day, but Russia needs to be convinced that leaders other than President Lukashenko would not threaten the special relationship with Belarus. You can be assured that we will try to go on working for you and with you on this issue.


  President. I have received six motions for resolutions(1) pursuant to Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday at 12 noon.

Written statement (Rule 142)


  Filip Andrzej Kaczmarek (PPE-DE). – (PL) The European Union attaches great importance to respect for human rights and the creation of democracy the world over. It must, however, pay particular attention to events just beyond its borders. Once again, Europe’s last dictatorship has provided a painful reminder of its sinister nature. Fraudulent elections, persecution of political opponents, suppression of freedom of assembly and expression, such are the actions of the Belarusian regime.

We support the Belarusian opposition because it is fighting for something we take for granted, namely democracy and freedom. It is also fighting for the nation's sovereignty, threatened by the dictator's sick ambitions that run counter to the interests of the nation. We support the opposition not because we share its political views but because of the aims it is struggling to achieve.

We ought also to do everything in our power to make life difficult for the regime and for Mr Lukashenko. People who do not respect values that are important to us ought not to be able to benefit from their application. The dictator's supporters must realise they have no place in Europe. Europe is for those who respect freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

Mr Milinkevich has said that the dictatorship will not last long and that change is in the air. I most earnestly hope that he will be proved right, for the sake of the Belarusian nation and for the whole of Europe. Let us hope that those who are fighting for freedom will draw strength from their optimism and succeed in overthrowing the tyrant.




(1) See Minutes.

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