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Wednesday, May 04, 2005


EU 'must circumvent Lukashenka'

Peter Savodnik writes in Slate:

While the European Union has spent plenty of money in Belarus since it gained independence from the Soviet Union—developing "civil society" and organizing educational trips, among other things, according to the EU Web site—it's unlikely that a single euro has been spent directly on the democratic opposition.

An internal EU document on assistance to Belarus shows that the authorities in Minsk watch carefully how money is spent. The document notes that "international assistance projects must undergo a registration procedure [in Belarus] and be scrutinized by a ministerial level Committee for tax exemption and a formal approval before they can be started." While the document further notes that Belarus will be eligible for additional funds under the new "Neighborhood Programs," those funds—assuming they are sanctioned by the regime—won't be available until 2007, after the presidential election.

The critical point is that the United States and Lithuania, which joined the European Union last year and is trying to change its foreign-aid policy, believe that Belarusians want to govern themselves and that it is their government that is preventing them from doing so. The only way to achieve democracy is to circumvent Lukashenko.

The Western Europeans tend to believe that circumventing Lukashenko and aiding opposition leaders—say, giving them conference-room facilities in Vilnius and paying for their room and board—is tantamount to shoving democracy down the Belarusians' collective throat. Change must be "evolutionary, not revolutionary," as some put it.

Many Belarusian activists are perplexed by the European Union. Lukashenko's is a regime that has killed off democratic reformers, indiscriminately jailed demonstrators, and cultivated farmland in the still-radioactive Chernobyl zone despite skyrocketing cancer rates.

Janna Litvina, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and an attendee at the Vilnius gathering, said democracy would come only after Belarusians transcend their isolation and fear, a fear that has been sown into the national psyche by a century of war, murder, and authoritarianism. "People believe they are absolutely helpless in the face of the government machine," Litvina said.

This is not a machine that can be reformed. It must be dismantled. Perhaps the new EU commissioner of external affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, will help her colleagues in Brussels see through the fog of "dialogues" and "cultural exchanges" to the real Belarus, the Belarus that can't be helped along but must be unleashed from its Soviet past.

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