Andrei Yahorau: The EU and Belarus continue their interaction on different levels

Piotr Kuchta, EuroBelarus Information Service

The current visit of the Polish deputies to Minsk can only be called historical in terms of time, while the guests are just trying to clarify the relations with their closest neighbor.

The stay of the Polish parliamentary delegation, headed by Vice-Speaker of the Sejm of Poland Ryszard Terlecki, an experienced fighter with the Polish communist regime, a number of experts have almost as recognized as a betrayal of the ideals of democracy. For example, “Does Warsaw recognize the Belarusan Parliament?” is the headline that Radio Racyja uses for covering the visit. Whereas the only purpose of the visit Terlecki has specified himself is to reaffirm the importance of the normalization of relations with Belarus: “Belarus has been and will be Poland’s neighbor; so the normalization of relations is important for both sides.” He also hopes that “after the September elections there won’t be any problems and Belarus-EU relations will continue to normalize.”

“I think, in general, nothing extraordinary is happening,“ says the director of the Center for European Transformation Andrei Yahorau in the interview with the EuroBelarus Information Service. “The fact that the Polish delegation is meeting with the representatives of the Belarusan parliament won’t make it legitimate for Europe; such recognition will be based on different criteria — the OSCE’s assessment of democracy and transparency of the elections. Why such people are coming to Belarus is a different question. I think the situation here is that after the abolition of sanctions, which doesn’t change anything, Poland seeks to clarify its relations with Belarus and find out what it really means. Therefore, all recent visits of European officials aim at clarifying how much Belarus is ready for rapprochement, what steps it’s ready to make, and where exactly it is heading.”

According to Andrei Yahorau, over the years, when the Belarusan-European contacts were reduced to zero, “the Europeans have lost any real understanding of Minsk intentions”:

“We can, of course, look at these visits as at the termination of support for democracy and cooperation with the illegitimate authoritarian regime instead, but in the information and geopolitical contexts today it is a logical step for Europe. All the more that we cannot get rid of the common border with the EU, most of which is the border with Poland. We should somehow discuss these issues of local border traffic, the existence of the two Unions of Poles in Belarus, economic cooperation, problems with the work of Belsat and Radio Racyja, etc.,” said the expert.

At the same time, notes Andrei Yahorau, “it’s very hard to understand what the Belarusan authorities want at all”:

“When European diplomats tried to find out the stance of the Belarusan authorities, it usually ended up with the puzzlement of the visitors, who met very different positions of Belarusan structures. Upon getting ambivalent signals from the state, European officials would decide to once again wait to see what will happen. And in the end everything turns into the usual routine of the EU-Belarus relations — the standby mode,” Andrei Yahorau recalls.

According to him, the EU now should take unilateral action on building a strategy:

“Let me repeat my thesis: the European Union has not lifted the sanctions against Belarus — first of all, it lifted the sanctions against itself, thus opening the ability to act in relation to Belarus. Based on what the EU wants to get out of this situation, it should look at the internal political situation in Belarus, at the areas open for influence and at the actors, who can be trusted in these actions. But we should by no means expect that the Belarusan authorities would be ready for dialog and rational relations; neither we should expect anything like the democratization of the elections.”

“For now Belarus-EU relations develop on different levels. The EU wants to rationalize and understand Belarus, to build relations strategy in the alleged forms of cooperation. Whereas Belarus is trying to sell the myth of its neutrality and the status of the stability donor in the region. It turns out that we are talking on different levels and the actors aspire to different purposes. In this situation, the only strategy for the EU can be one-sided rationalization of the situation, where any action of the Belarusan authorities — whether positive or negative — in the end should not destroy the European Union’s political logic.”