Can Poland bring Democracy to eastern neighbour Belarus?

10-03-2006

Just over two weeks before presidential elections in Belarus, the life of the opposition there is becoming ever more difficult. One of Alexander Lukashenko's rivals was beaten up by security forces and detained for several hours. Following its active involvement in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Poland is now attentively watching developments in another eastern neighbour.

Alexander Lukashenko, photo: CTKAlexander Lukashenko, photo: CTK Poland has been openly recognizing the need for democratic changes in Belarus. Earlier this year opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevic was officially invited to Poland where he had a chance to address the Polish parliament. And Radio Racja, based in north-eastern Poland, has just re-launched its broadcasts to Belarus. Is there anything else that Poland can do to help its eastern neighbour to get on the track of democracy? independent journalist Andrzej Krajewski:

"What we are witnessing in Belarus is not what we had in Ukraine lat year because in Ukraine not the whole media were backing the official candidate of the authorities. Here there is no independent media at all. Belarusians are not aware that there are other candidates. The effort should be to make Belarusians know they really have a choice.

Poland's relations with Belarus deteriorated significantly last summer when the authorities in Minsk refused to acknowledge the new leadership of the Union of Poles in Belarus. Interrogations and detentions followed, the expulsions of both countries' diplomats took place. Anti-Polish campaigns conducted by the Belarusian media and regime continue.

Warsaw says that Minsk's recent moves are a sign of weakness. Polish diplomat expelled from Belarus last year Marek Bucko:

"The fact that there have been cases of firing at demonstrators and brutality not only towards opposition candidate [Alexander] Kasulin, but members of his electoral committee too, means that the authorities in Minsk are weak."

MinskMinsk Poland seems to have brought a new impetus to the EU's involvement with developments in Belarus. Bogdan Klich, a Polish MEP who is a member of the commission for relations with Belarus, is also among the European Parliament's representatives planning to serve as observers at the time of the presidential elections in Belarus on March 19:

"Our engagement in the framework of the EU is visible. Without the Polish support on the forum of the EP, there wouldn't be five important, well-perceived resolutions supporting the Belarusian opposition forces. The European parliament created its delegation composed of seven people. I am one of them, and we will try to reach the territory of Belarus. It is not clear yet whether at all we will be allowed to get into the country."

Sources close to president Kaczynski and the government unofficially imply that Poland may not recognize the Belarusian authorities, should Alexander Lukashenko win, having used unfair methods to discredit and crush the opposition.

10-03-2006