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Hardly a week passes without important news from Belarus, which I usually divide into two categories: bad and very bad. Other categories are rather rarely used.
Although released from arrest, journalist Andrei Pochobut ended with charges of insulting the President, which is a serious offence in Belarus. An official search conducted in headquarters of the local Union of Poles and a requisition of all computers – these are only few more recent titbits. There’s something rotten in the Belarusian state and the worst is yet to come – after all it is the year of parliamentary elections and for certain the regime is already planning on strong actions to reduce information flow. Let’s ponder, however, over recent news and it’s enough to agree with the opinion that I, as a MEP specialized in Belarusian-Polish relations, have been voicing for a long time: EU states – in particular those of our region – must follow a proactive approach towards Belarus.
Only an active and coherent Eastern policy of the whole Union might trigger a change in this country. In one of his newest articles, MEP Paweł Kowal cries out for more activity in this field – not only of Poland but also of Lithuania and other non-EU Eastern European states, Georgia for instance – and rightly so. I, however, deeply believe that the key to an effective policy towards the East of Europe is the EU closing its ranks, which is conditioned by a political alliance with the biggest European players.
In my opinion, winning over Germans in this regard is crucial. They are already interested in a more proactive policy towards Eastern countries – one of their foreign policy priorities. The core activity should be persuading them to further enforcement of sanctions against Belarusian authorities as well as a simultaneous support for the local civil society, and, as a result, showing the significance of European solidarity in this case. There is an illusory belief, sometimes voiced in a Polish political debate, that individual policies towards Lukashenko’s rule separately created by countries of Central and Eastern Europe might bring a positive outcome. Only the power of allied EU states creates a chance at a change – we must accept this fact to move forward and build relations with the East of Europe.
Polish authorities are sometimes accused of fervently talking about supporting the civil society there while at the same time Belarusian pro-democratic activists must wrestle with serious obstacles regarding obtaining Polish visas. There is a problem indeed, yet its source has nothing to do with priorities of the Polish government. Our consulates in Belarus are literally the most besieged diplomatic posts in this country. Only last year, we issued 300,000 Schengen visas. More than a half of them were “shopping visas” – a new solution created by Polish authorities to facilitate entering our country: a short-term visa allowing Belarusians to, simply speaking, shop in Poland. While crossing the border next time, showing a receipt is all it takes to get another one.
For Belarusians, our country is an attractive destination – the reason why more and more of our neighbours apply for an entry document. The queues to our consulates are, therefore, growing. We’ve been well aware of it for years and have been asking Belarusian authorities to agree to a bigger number of posts. Unfortunately, they seem to disregard the need. Hence, our consulates are operated by too few people. We cannot, however, change anything without even a small dose of good will from the local authorities. The regime is also fully responsible for the lack of an operational local traffic border agreement with Poland, who went through a whole set of formalities two years ago. It’s the turn of Belarusian authorities that remain silent, despite many attempts at reopening talks on this issue made by the Polish side. Well, it takes two to sort out transborder arrangements, so it must be said clearly – there’s a lack of will to do this on the other side. Will the situation change? Sometime in the future it will, for no power lasts forever.