Ferrero-Waldner: EU took off rose-coloured glasses long ago
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, started her visit to Minsk with a meeting with representatives of the opposition and the civil society.
In the morning June 22, Benita Ferrero-Waldner met with Stanislau Shushkevich, former chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus and leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada; former political prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin; head of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka; leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists Syarhei Kalyakin; deputy head of the BPF party Vintsuk Vyachorka.
“I have an impression Benita Ferrero-Waldner has a deep insight into the events in Belarus. We can only welcome this. We see that the Commissioner is going to listen to every side. We hope her position will help to change the situation in Belarus. We said at the meeting that no fundamental changes are noticed in Belarus, we still don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of association and assembly, there are political prisoners in the country. Benita Ferrero-Waldner answered to that she realizes that no changes could be expected without changes in the electoral legislation of Belarus. The commissioner added she would keep an eye on investigation of the cases of Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, and Uladzimir Asipenka, ” Stanislau Shushkevich told the Charter’97 press center after the meeting.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner had a 30-minute meeting with representatives of civil society of Belarus today’s morning. Coordinator of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Zmitser Bandarenka, head of Viasna human rights center Ales Byalyatski, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Zhanna Litvina, public activist Tatsyana Pashyvalava, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak, head of Novak Laboratory Andrei Vaardamatski took part in the meeting.
Zhanna Litvina told about the situation with freedom of speech in Belarus, which is still poor, in her view. Ales Byalyatski said two parties and 10 public organizations, including Viasna human rights center, weren’t registered since the so called liberalization had been announced in Belarus. According to him, it’s impossible to speak about minimal political freedom in Belarus without changes in the laws concerning political parties and NGOs.
BHC head Aleh Hulak told criminal cases had been instigated against three NGOs who had received aid within frames of TACIS EU’s programme; criminal prosecution hasn’t been stopped yet. Hulak also told about the case of Autukhovich, Lyavonau, and Asipenka. Benita Ferrero-Waldner demonstrated keen interest in the issue of political prisoners.
Coordinator of “European Belarus” Zmitser Bandarenka reminded the European commissioner that leaders of entrepreneurs Autukhovich and Lyavonau had been arrested the day before their previous term of punishment expired. They were recognized prisoners of conscience for that sentence. The Belarusian television and interior minister Uladzimir Navumau said explosives had been found on Autukhovich, Lyavonau, and Asipenka and they allegedly gave confessions, though the political prisoners don’t admit their guilt.
Zmitser Bandarenka told the European commissioner that militia destroyed European symbols in spit of talks about friendship with the European Union riot militiamen tore down EU flags during opposition rallies, militiamen burst into activists’ apartments and seize European flags, stickers, posters, brochures with EU symbols and information about the EU. Militiamen refuse to return these materials and say they will be burnt.
Ferrero-Waldner was shocked by this information. The commissioner said their European Union noticed certain positive changes in Belarus at the beginning of the dialogue with the Belarusian authorities. But now the European Union sees only stagnation and no real steps on democratization.
“We told that Lukashenka needed only loans from the European Union, and liberalization is just bluff. The European commission answered the European Union had taken off rose-coloured glasses long ago and had a real view of the situation in the country. Benita Ferrero-Waldner told she knew under which hard conditions civil society activists had to work, and noticed she believed changes in Belarus were inevitable. We thanked the European commissioner for her firm position in defending human rights,” Zmitser Bandarenka told the Charter’97 press center.