Diplomatic row breaks out between Czech Republic and Belarus, following arrest of Czech diplomat

24-01-2005

A diplomatic row has broken out between the Czech Republic and Belarus. On Wednesday, the Belarusian authorities expelled a Czech diplomat after arresting and detaining him despite his diplomatic immunity. In return, a Belarusian diplomat was expelled from Prague on Friday in an incident reminiscent of the Cold War.

MinskMinsk The Czech diplomat Pavel Krivohlavy was given a 24-hour deadline to leave Belarus last Wednesday after he was arrested at a Minsk café while reportedly drinking alcohol with a 16-year-old boy. The Prague-based Belarusian independent journalist Natallia Sudlianko says the incident was a set-up by the authorities, prepared well in advance.

"I think that this was being prepared for at least half a year, because on Friday the Belarusian TV showed a film about the whole incident. They showed the video material with Pavel Krivohlavy - at least they said it was Pavel Krivohlavy - where he was kissing young guys and then they showed the material from the interrogation of these teenagers. In this material these teenagers were speaking about their homosexual contacts which were held in Pavel Krivohlavy's flat. But the faces of these guys were not seen and their voices were changed. So that means that nobody can say exactly whether these were just those guys. And I'm sure that no independent investigator will see those materials."

The Czech Foreign Ministry sees the manner in which Mr Krivohlavy was expelled as non-standard and says his expulsion was politically motivated. Jan Petranek is a Czech journalist, following events in Belarus.

"Of course, the issue must be investigated properly but there are fears that the criminal charges were brought because you cannot incriminate a diplomat politically. If he was meeting young people, it would be hard to accuse him of espionage, so he was charged with corrupting morals. What really happened is hard to tell now but it looks like a ploy to get rid of an unwanted Czech diplomat."

The Belarusian journalist Natalia Sudlianko agrees and adds the affair has to do with President Alexander Lukashenko's campaign for a third presidential term.

"I think that the real reason why he was expelled - and why he was expelled in such a manner - is that Alexander Lukashenko has a policy of demonising, I would say, the Western countries and Western diplomats. He insisted that the Belorusian KGB, I mean the secret service, should show the Belarusian people that Western diplomats are making prostitutes from Belarusian girls, that they bring only homosexuality and so on and so forth."

Czech human rights organisations along with former Czech anti-communist dissidents have been very active in supporting the political opposition in Belarus. But as Jan Petranek says there is more that Mr Lukashenko holds against the Czech Republic.

"The Belarusian regime is most angry with the Czech Republic because Mr Lukashenko was not granted an entry visa to the Czech Republic in 2002 for the NATO summit and the conference that was to bring the West and the East to one table. The relations between the Czech Republic and Belarus are quite nervous. They are not at crisis point, but I would say they are quite rancorous. They reflect the abyss between a developing and quite stable democracy in the Czech Republic and Lukashenko's regime which is considered internationally to be one of the six or seven worst regimes on earth."

24-01-2005