The Holly War for a water-pump station: notes to the latest events

Andrei Yahorau, Centre for European Transformation

The recent news stream overfilled with the information about the conflict among the political members of the opposition reached the highest point of absurdity.

What happened?

The real course of events is that on April 8 the BNF Party, the Movement “For Freedom” and “Tell the Truth!” Civil Campaign made an appeal to the EU about five steps towards the Belarusan society which the EU could have made unilaterally.

Later that day on Andrei Sannikau called this appeal “verbal exercises” and “the legitimization of the regime” and proposed to the EU a complete cessation of relations with the dictatorship, including oil trade and diplomatic contacts. Let us note that none of the sides said anything new; their stands remained unchanged.

On April 9 in the European Parliament an event dedicated to the problems of the development of the European dialogue on modernization with the Belarusan society took place. A number of Belarusan members of political opposition participated in the event, but from those involved into the conflict it was only Aliaksandr Milinkevich who expressed his opinion about the statement. In his speech he made a remark that he represented his personal position only on the relations between Belarus and the EU, not on the European dialogue on modernization.

On April, 9 independent mass media, politicians and political analysts fanned a real “holly war” where everything was mixed: the statements of the  three different politicians, Sannikau’ answer, European dialogue on modernization, the conference, the renovation of diplomatic relations with Sweden, former offences and so on and so forth — without order or attempts to figure something out.

What do we have as a result?

Sannikau and three other politicians who made the appeal captured the attention of media for two days. They were accompanied by a couple of other members of the opposition; some ten analysts commented on damned nothing; dozens of articles were written about the damned nothing and a handful of reporting were made about the conflict.

Behind the fuss some relevant facts were left unnoticed:

(a) It has been a year since the “European dialogue on modernization” begun to operate;

(b) The opposition politicians haven’t been participating in the activity of the dialogue on their own accord;

(c) During the year the EU still has not found any new methods of operation with Belarus;

(d) The format of the dialogue will probably be reviewed by June, when its second phase will start.

In addition, being hidden in the shadow of the pointless conflict, this wonderful EU initiative — the dialogue — got stained. And it is important that the stain was made by the so-called Europeanization supporters: members of the opposition, independent journalists, experts and analysts, civil activists...

Why did the politicians need it?

The thing is that the development of the European dialogue on modernization progresses without the representatives from the political opposition, who do not want to join the initiative because of their personal reasons and who do not want to cooperate with the structures of the civil society. Before the conference in the European Parliament the politicians have to justify a year of total inaction in front of the people from the EU who initiated the European dialogue specially for them. This is a perfect state of affairs: a cooperative action, a step towards consolidation. The situation now is that whatever our politicians would state, and state it all together, it would be heartily welcomed in the EU. Even if they proposed to clone Belka and Strelka (Soviet space dogs) and put them into the hadron collider to solve the problems of human rights in Belarus, it would be a great success. And partially, their trick has proved to be effective.

As Sannikau realizes the advantages of this behavior, he just reinforces the reaction in the media and gains his scores by contradiction.

What are the real contradictions between the groups of opposition?

There are none. In terms of politics, there is no difference between these two stands; their contradictions are exceptionally rhetorical. All these groups suggest for the EU (or in case with Labiedźka, the EU and Belarusan authorities) to do something which in their opinion will change the situation. Note that they suggest that somebody will take some measures, but they do not declare what exactly they will do for the changes. Thus, it is a counselor’s position, they give advice to the EU, while the latter is free to follow it or not.

Will the EU consider any of the rhetorical stands?

No, it will not. The EU will take decisions based on its own understanding of the situation. During the year of the European dialogue on modernization none of the democratic forces have undertaken any measures to come to an agreement, to coordinate their positions with the EU and, within the scope of the arrangements, to do something worthwhile. Let the measures be modest, corresponding to the possibilities, but let them change the situation. So why then the EU should take their advice into account?

How can be explained the return of the Swedish Embassy to Minsk?

These actions must be regarded as slow and careful steps towards the closer relations between Belarus and the EU. Today they have to be sure that the intentions of the both sides are serious, therefore they make these small steps. They exchange their opinions, make official visits, and resolve the least critical conflicts and more. And all this is done to proceed later to the resolution of problems connected with the discharging of the political prisoners and the withdrawing of sanctions.

Are there “positive vibrations” from Minsk?

The authorities started to take an interest in the dialogue with the EU; the “shell” is broken, so to say. The EU has always remained open for negotiations and now Belarusan authorities make use of it. So far that is all for “positive”.

Do the recent events mean that the EU is ready to unfreeze the relations with the regime despite the failure to comply with the main condition — to discharge the political prisoners?

No, the EU will not do this. Only when the discharging starts that the EU will begin to withdraw the restrictive measures and commence a true collaboration. The sides have already been negotiating and they will continue to do so.

Is it possible that the opposition will be left aside the dialogue between the EU and Minsk?

The opposition was left aside long ago. Until the political opposition is in state of disorganization and only gives useful pieces of advice, nobody will take it seriously. The European dialogue on modernization has always opened their doors and given the possibilities for the opposition to restore their reputation, but the time passes dangerously fast.