Is Belarus ready for dialogue with Europe?

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The Germany-sponsored International Education Center in Minsk on March 23 hosted a conference devoted to the political and cultural heritage of Johannes Rau.

None of the participants would doubt that the personality of the former German president was not accidental to stress the general background of the meeting. Johannes Rau, who said that political opponents should not be treated as enemies, became a living embodiment of dialogue in Europe. Even the deputy foreign minister of Belarus, Valer Varanecki, noticed this symbolism in his speech.

“His motto “Reconciliation instead of separation” is especially in great demand today, when the overcoming of mutual mistrust and the normalization of relations between Belarus and the European Union are very acute,” he said.

The European Radio for Belarus’s correspondent covering the event also interviewed Dr. Manfred Stolppe, who has made a successful career in German politics over the past several decades, serving as the prime minister of Brandenburg and as a federal minister in Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet.

When Angel Merkel became Germany’s Chancellor, Dr. Stolppe resigned to become one of the most renowned political analysts in Europe. Is a constructive dialogue between the West and the authorities in Minsk possible? This was the first question to Manfred Stolppe from the European Radio for Belarus.

“I believe there is a need for such a dialogue. One could begin with practical issues. Political imprisonments are an acute issue today. Political prisoners should be released… The European Union will take care about maintaining such a dialogue, but gradually, “Dr. Stolppe said.

The EU is ready to make steps in return, but Belarus and the united Europe has failed to launch a dialogue as of yet. The result is the extension of economic sanctions by the EU. However, in the view of Dr. Stolppe, sanctions represent just an attempt to make the Belarusian authorities exchange a couple of constructive remarks.

“The sanctions were approved, but have not yet become effective. This will happen on July 1, and the three months remaining are very important. These are the three months which can be used to prevent the sanctions,” Dr. Stolppe continues.

The organizers of the conference, too, planned to build a dialogue between the participants. Yury Khadyka was the first to take the opportunity and intervene.

“Every time I get surprised with the depth of misunderstanding, which separates the pro-democracy community in Belarus and the democratic politicians from Germany,” he said.

Every Belarusian speaker, apart from veterans also present in the conference hall, expressed their thanks and their discontent to the Germans and to each other. There was not discussion. Rather, it resembled another round of endless and pointless quarrel between the old friends, who cannot share something valuable and important for them all.

In order to lead a constructive dialogue with Europe, politicians in Belarus should first sort out all the disagreements between themselves, a process that could take years to come. That’s why there was both positive feelings and irony in the final remark by Dr. Stolppe to the European Radio for Belarus.

“I hope that when the European Union will be celebrating its 100th anniversary, Belarus will have already been a part of the united Europe. And, it seems to me that even in 50 years it will be a strong union,” he said.

Photo by vdk.de