Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Belarus after the elections

Delivered in Plenary - 23rd March 2006

Madam President

Belarus unexpectedly woke up to statehood in 1991. It has had a terrible history, suffering particularly badly from the fallout from Chernobyl. Indeed, I was one of the authors of an amendment in the last Parliament to increase the funding to help the children who are still suffering the consequences of the radioactivity to date.

Belarus is now saddled with a paranoid, self-isolating dictator, Mr Lukashenko. I described the country as the ‘Cuba of Europe’. Mr Lukashenko has no time for fair and free elections. He goes through the charade only. He believes in the Stalinist saying that it does not matter how the voting is conducted, but who controls the count. Bizarrely, Mr Lukashenko may even have had sufficient popular support – 55 to 60% – to have won the vote in a free election. However, that was not enough for a man like him: he wanted a much larger margin of a majority as a dictator, because he would fear that, if he were to become more unpopular, next time round there would be no comfort zone in which to retreat back to 55% or 60%.

Regrettably, Russia, under Mr Putin, supplies gas to Belarus at $50 per thousand cubic metres and the Belarus economy is rosy enough for Mr Lukashenko to be able to buy the votes of pensioners, the military, the police and all the apparatus of the state. Fortunately, the young are more cynical and I salute the courage of all those who have taken to the streets in protest and faced the brutality and the wrath of the militia and the KGB under Mr Lukashenko.

At the end of the day, Mr Lukashenko should be considered a pariah in the West and travel bans and financial assets must be tightened up on all the members of the regime: they must be frozen. We must support their civil society and their NGOs and we need a very special and generously funded visitors’ programme in the European Union to bring students, journalists and members of civil society – the movers and shakers and the opinion formers – over to our Parliament to see how democracy really works in action.