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12 Dec

Laurent Vinatier, Global Voice, December 20, 2011 (France)

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Belarus: Year 0… Once Again

It has been one year since the last Presidential election, with its massive fraud, vote-rigging and harsh crackdown against opposition political and civil figures, including, of course, all the inconvenient Presidential candidates. Some of them, including Andrei Sannikau and Mikalai Statkevitch, are still behind bars, together with the human rights defender Alex Byalyatski. The joint statement recently issued by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, sadly commemorating the first anniversary of this Belarusian degradation, sounds familiar. It seems to have been heard all year long, at each step of this deepening deterioration, in political, economic, social and monetary domains.

"Over the past 12 months, the Belarusian authorities have imprisoned peaceful demonstrators, suppressed non-violent protests, and worked to silence independent voices. There have also been credible reports of degrading and inhumane treatment of political prisoners. New laws will further restrict citizens’ fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression. Support for civil society will also be reduced." Not to mention the financial situation. Belarus’ economy is now heavily dependent on Russian loans, either directly or through the Eurasian Economic Community. Money has been devalued. Foreign exchange reserves are dramatically low. Inflation grows. To survive, Minsk has no choice but to sell all its national assets to Russian buyers, all too happy to impose their conditions. Clearly, Belarus will become the last subject of the Russian Federation.

The European and US statements of condemnation are certainly useful. They are also, in effect, very limited. A year ago, Belarus was already lost, so far as the West was concerned. One year later and all hope has gone because there is a structural obstacle. How can a supportive EU policy be implemented? Everyone agrees that a more effective EU policy would be to intensify non-political cooperation towards civil society rather than increasing economic sanctions. The EU might then be able to provide technical assistance in carrying out reforms. But in the meantime, Belarus authorities have adopted a number of amendments to forbid the work of Non-Governmental Organizations, not only the foreign ones but also the local NGOs financed by external powers. For instance, the Foreign Ministry of Belarus has just refused to renew the accreditation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Belarus. The limited voices of the Warsaw-based Information Office, Solidarity with Democratic Belarus, are neverthless eloquent. However, while receiving news from the field is, and will remain, essential, what change can it lead to? Belarus is not Libya. From an EU point of view, let’s admit that Belarus cannot be saved!

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