Political Situation in Belarus
Delivered in Plenary - July 4th 2005
I have a long-standing interest in Belarus and I have never advocated completely cutting off contact with the Belarus authorities in areas of mutual concern such as people trafficking and trade matters. It is also true that current EU policies have not paid any dividends. The regime of President Lukashenko has retreated into a siege mentality, in which increasing paranoia about the intentions of the EU, the USA, and even Russia at times has resulted in mounting repression and authoritarian responses.
Democracy has been effectively terminated, with sham elections and an end to limits on the president’s term of office, although CIS observers would claim otherwise. Human rights are trampled on, with unexplained disappearances of opposition figures. The judiciary is far from independent and does not question the campaign of Deputy Attorney General Paval Radzivonaw as the principal architect of the crackdown on newspapers such as Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni and Vremya.
The criminal conviction of opposition figures such as Mikhail Marinich is further evidence of this. Press freedom is virtually non-existent now, with newspapers being suspended and journalists, including foreign correspondents, harassed or fined. Theoretically, Belarusians can even be sent to labour camps for daring to criticise the president. One journalist, Veronika Cherkasova, was mysteriously murdered last year.
In terms of media freedom, Belarus is now on a par with some of the world’s pariah regimes, such as Cuba, Burma, North Korea and Iran. The EU and the USA stand together in condemning this brutal regime and imposing smart sanctions on officials of the regime.
I strongly support independent radio broadcasting into Belarus from the EU and also financial assistance for Belarus journalists and for civil society. I hope that that ghastly regime’s days are numbered and that it will soon be off the map of Europe.