Uladzimir Matskevich: Visa-free regime is not a political concession to the West

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

It is a process of normalization of Belarus-EU relations. Belarus just fulfils its international commitments.

On January 9 the head of the state signed the Decree № 8 “On establishment of visa-free entry and exit of foreign citizens”, which provides a visa-free entry to Belarus for a period not exceeding 5 days when entering the country through the National Airport Minsk border checkpoint for citizens of 80 countries.

Shortly, thanks to the German newspaper Tageszeitung, the Belarusans learned that the European Union allocates EUR 7 million for the construction of camps for illegal migrants.

EuroBelarus Information Service and Uladzimir Matskevich, philosopher and methodologist analyzed what is behind these events:

— The introduction of a 5-day visa-free regime for citizens of 80 countries itself is a political consequence of the visa liberalization process.

The necessity to obtain a visa has never been an obstacle for official visits at the level of international relations; even if it was an emergency visit, to a day, there was an accelerated procedure for issuing visas. Therefore, at the official level the new regime will have a purely psychological effect: politicians and diplomats will be satisfied that they are welcome without a special clearance.

But it is a serious concession for ordinary citizens and tourists who suddenly had the wish to travel in Belarus a few days. The need to obtain a visa hampered contacts between people thus a visa-free regime can be regarded as a great achievement. It seems that even if one needs to stay in Belarus for more than 5 days there will be an opportunity to obtain a visa on the spot in the consular services provided. This decision is long-awaited one, it is very welcome.

But it is unlikely to cause a large influx of foreign visitors: foreigners did not visit Belarus because they knew little about our country, not due to the visa regime.

Of course, the new regime will facilitate the cooperation between the Belarusan and foreign businessmen.

However, the main obstacle to the inflow of investments is the difficult conditions of doing business in Belarus and the lack of guarantees.

— What are the benefits of the visa-free regime for Belarus?

— The tourism industry, an entire infrastructure — transport, hotel bookings, and accommodation facilities will benefit greatly. Of course, the business people, politicians, public figures, tourists who visit Belarus will stay at the hotels in Minsk and other big cities. But visa liberalization decision is unlikely to affect the long-term holiday planning or agritourism.

— Many people perceive the decision as a step towards the EU and await some “concessions” from the European Union in response.

— It is reasonable to expect the same visa regime concessions from the European Union for Belarus. It was a long-awaited measure at the political level and at the level of the civil society on both sides. It is wrong to say that the 5-day “visa-free regime” is a political concession to the West. It is evident that Belarus adopted the decision to introduce a 5-day visa regime without the consent of the Russian Federation. Hence the question: can foreigners that come to Belarus by visa-free regime visit Russia? I do not know exactly, but they say the passport control have been already introduced for their aircrafts arriving from Minsk. This means that the joint border and customs services practice should be reviewed.

— Why does the European Union fund the construction of camps for migrants on the territory of Belarus?

— Belarus is a party to several international agreements: on migration, readmission, on humanitarian issues. The readmission agreement states that the people crossing the border of a state, but not accepted there, are to be extradited to the country they flee. However until their fate is unclear, they must be provided with tolerable conditions of existence. The situation with the Chechens demanded for Belarus to implement the international agreements on readmission and migration.

It is a process of normalization of Belarus-EU relations. Belarus just fulfils its international commitments.