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.
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
Support the Belarusian cartoonists
Third Way, the Belarusian organisation whose members are being prosecuted for producing satirical cartoons about Lukashenka,
have set up a web page where you can make a donation via PayPal. The group urgently
need money for their legal defence and operating expenses. Please give what you can today! Read more
We are continuing to focus our efforts on the Belarusian prisoner of conscience Mikhail Marinich.
We are campaigning for him to receive proper medical treatment, to be permitted to see his family,
and ultimately to be released from prison pending a review of his case. You can help by distributing
our factsheets and letters.
Members of these groups have joined our blog to share their views and experiences.