Uladzimir Matskevich: The EU is satisfied with Belarus as a buffer state between West and East

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

Belarus in a preserved status can be endured for quite a long time and sometimes even be given money so that it is quiet, without revolutions and chaos.

It has been almost a year since the beginning of a new wave of thaw between Belarus and the European Union, which started after the release of political prisoners in late August 2015.

What has the official Minsk gained in result of thaw in relations? Milder rhetoric, lift of visa sanctions, and active exchange of delegations.

Moreover, the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights situation in Belarus has been prolonged for one year; the United States imposed new two-year sanctions against “Belvneshpromservice” enterprise on suspicion of violating the U.S. law on non-proliferation of technologies for the production of weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. State Department recommends Belarus to abolish all forms of forced labor.

The prospects of development of relations between Belarus and the West in an interview with the EuroBelarus Information Service analyzes the philosopher and methodologist Uladzimir Matskevich.

— What is the official Minsk trying to achieve by thaw in relations with the West?

— In the first place it’s waiting for economic effect: increase in credit rates and possible investments, or at least loans or introduction of international campaign to the Belarusan economy. To put it simply, the Belarusan authorities are waiting for financial injections from the thaw in relations with the West.

— It has been almost a year since the beginning of another warming, however, no significant monetization of relations happened. Can it be that the wishes of the official Minsk and expectations of Brussels are the opposite?

— In a certain sense, they are. Though the desire to bring relations closer coincides, the idea of ​​what it should look like and what effects are to be expected differ.

— Apart from milder rhetoric, no real steps towards Europe are happening.

— Let's first agree on what real steps are. First of all, it is bringing different spheres of life — from the public administration to human rights — to the international European standards; adoption of the All-European international norms in different areas of life. That would mean real convergence, real integration with the European Union.

Even if in some fields the official Minsk would ready to bring the relations closer, a lot rests on the qualifications, personnel, and training. Moreover, the regime couldn’t understand what should the integration process start with. It cannot start from the end; it should start from the man, its training, and not from changing norms, standards and technologies.

Lack of transparency, lack of connection between the current regime and the society create a huge gap between the daily work of state machine at all levels and declarations of the regime.

For Belarus to make at least slightly realistic move towards Europe, the West, the whole society should be set in motion — from top to the bottom...

— But it is very easy to involve the society in an authoritarian society — one just needs give a single order...

Basically, I agree that it is easy to do — we should allow transparency and freedom of the media and to establish cooperation between the top government and readers, consumers of information, with the media. Having established such cooperation, we would have more or less synchronous movement of the society, officials, and the regime. But the regime cannot allow publicity, which it’s afraid of a lot.

— Let me get to the beginning of our discussion. Since there are no financial investments, how long can the official Minsk make advances with Europe?

— Long enough.

European policy and European integration are developing in accordance with absolutely different time frames. The process of European integration has just started: we only see the first steps. And the end is postponed for a very long time — tens, maybe even hundreds years.

Whereas Belarusan regime lives in accordance with a completely different time frame — in accordance with the scale of an accounting period. It’s like comparing a sportsman capable of running one hundred meters and a marathoner. The difference in time frames, in development of political initiatives, in the EU’s and the U.S. political programs, is incomparable with Belarus. Belarus in a preserved status can be endured for quite a long time and sometimes even be given money so that it is quiet, without revolutions and chaos. And it connection with the Russia-Ukraine war and processes happening in Ukraine, Belarus doesn’t look like a big problem.

Such situation can last for a very long time.

— Maybe the EU is satisfied with the current state of affairs and having Belarus as a buffer state between the EU and Russia, between West and East?

— As a temporary tactical decision — The EU is satisfied with this state of affairs, since the EU is not ready to take decisive steps towards Belarus, Russia, and the East in general. Europe is tolerating Belarus that is neither its strategic direction nor a place of bringing in troops and resources. Belarus is not the main thing for Europe.

It’s impossible to organize all the economic reforms all at the same time. Since Belarus has no strategic value for the EU, let it smoulder.

All hopes that the West will help us cope with internal problems are groundless.