Appeasement in our Time: Berlusconi Goes to BelarusBERLIN — This year has been full of celebrations of the peaceful revolutions of 1989, arguably the most important advance of freedom, democracy, and human rights in history. But this year has also seen rapid European rapprochement with (and some might say appeasement of) one of the world’s worst autocrats: Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Europe’s embrace reached a new level Monday when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi paid an official visit to Minsk, the first by a Western head of government in over a decade.
... Last year, the regime in Minsk suddenly appeared to change track. The release of several political prisoners, a slightly freer parliamentary election, permits for a few independent newspapers, and government hints about possible liberalizations of the media and the electoral laws seemed to indicate that democratic change was in the air.
... For European leaders, the writing was on the wall: engage with Belarus and other former Soviet satellites now, or risk that these Eastern neighbors fall back into Russia’s orbit for good.
... It was left to Berlusconi, however, to become the first European leader to board a plane to Minsk.
European leaders have been at pains over the last year to justify all this outreach, arguing that a decade-plus policy of isolation had arrived at a dead end. Not quite. It is true that Europe avoided any political contacts or cooperation with the Belarusian leadership; yet at the same time, trade with the country was thriving and last year the EU surpassed Russia as an importer of Belarusian goods. By filling the coffers of the Lukashenko regime, EU economic engagement effectively neutralized political isolation and helped to sustain the status quo in Belarus
Unsurprisingly, liberalization in the country has reversed. There are accounts of new political prisoners and trials, police have brutally dispersed several protests over the last months, and the independent media as well as civil society remain under threat. If anything, Europe’s unconditional engagement encourages Lukashenko, who recently (interviewed in Italy’s La Stampa) asserted: ”Belarus is not a beggar in European relations.”
Absent tangible results or even prospects for change, Europe’s rapprochement indeed begins to look a lot like appeasement. Yet that would send a fatal sign to Belarus and the world. To Lukashenko and his ilk, it would be tantamount to admitting that for the EU, state sovereignty, geopolitics, and economic gain trump universal values, democracy, and human rights. But the EU can still choose to do otherwise. That would truly honor the legacy of 1989.
Joerg Forbrig is Senior Program Officer for Central and Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
This article appeared in
Belarusian Review, Vol. 21, No. 4
Copyright 2009 Belarusian Review
All rights reserved.
|Source: Source: Excerpts from the publication of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, November 30, 2009