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Nobel Prize for Alexievich and elections in Belarus: Europe is giving a bonus to its “last dictator”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

On Oct 8, 2015, the Swedish Academy granted this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to Belorussian citizen Svetlana Alexievich. By giving the prize to a politically and culturally motivated Russian-speaking writer, they in the West have proved that today they are using it as a tool for achieving their political goals. Some 15 years ago, Alexievich was engaged as an “expert” to inform TV audiences in Germany and Austria about the spiritual space of the post-Soviet world. So, the Nobel Prize is a kind of a reward for her “European choice.” According to Reuters, by giving the prize to Alexievich, a writer who openly criticizes Lukashenko and Russia, the Europeans seek to encourage independent voice in Belarus. Even more, before the Oct 11 presidential election in that country, this looks like a guarantee of its “European choice.” This is how it is supposed to be regarded in Europe, Belarus and Russia.

The next day after Alexievich was given the prize, Reuters quoted some diplomatic sources as saying that the European Union was ready to suspend its sanctions against Belarus for four months. This will be done on the very next day of the election, on Oct 12, on condition that the Belarusain opposition is not subjected to any repressions before and during the voting. The EU’s warning “not to disperse” is pointless as both Belarus and Europe know that there will be no incidents on Oct 11.

According to German experts in Berlin, in order to be able to restore their contacts with the EU, the Belorussian authorities will first have to ensure a fair voting. This is why they in the EU warned that they expected free and fair ballot.

And the Belarusian opposition reacted appropriately. On Saturday, they organized an unsanctioned demonstration under the slogan “For Free and Fair Election!” The police did not prevent the rally. It seems that the ruling regime in Minsk is beginning to give an ear to Brussels’ recommendations. The demonstrators urged the voters to boycott the voting and not to recognize its results if Lukashenko won. But the problem is that this will curb the rapprochement of Lukashenko’s Belarus with the European Union and the United States.

And so, the EU has offered Belarus a bonus for fair elections - suspended sanctions. The only sanctions the EU is not going to suspend are the ban on arms supplies from Europe and personal measures against four law enforcers suspected of being privy to the disappearance of Belurusian oppositionists. The visa and financial restrictions against 140 high-ranking Belorussian government officials and a number of Belorussian companies have been suspended till late Feb 2016. Thus, they in Europe have given Lukashenko – who is sure to win the election once again – a kind of a probation time. If during that time, he makes no moves towards Europe, he will again be accused of human rights violations and will face renewed sanctions.

This is also a reward for the release of the last six political prisoners in Belarus and Lukashenko’s mediation in the peace process in Ukraine. One of those released was the presidential hopeful in 2010 Mikola Statkevich. So, the next step is a normal presidential election.

The suspended sanctions are a substantial measure for Lukashenko and are supposed to encourage him into establishing partner relations with Europe. This will be a chance for Belorussian companies to get funds from the European Investment Bank. And this also means that Russia will stop being the only donor for Belarus.

While receiving credentials from a number of ambassadors on Oct 5, Lukashenko said that Belarus had to stop being prejudiced and had to start building fair relations with the European Union. “As a European country, Belarus wants to normalize and to seriously develop its relations with the European Union.”

More and more Europeans are beginning to believe that Lukashenko, who until recently has been called “Europe’s last dictator” is now trying to open his country for the EU. They believe in Lukashenko’s evolution as a leader and see him as the only guarantor of Belarus’s sovereignty.

In their dialogue with Belarus, Europeans have ceased to talk about values and are beginning to talk about credits. This is their second attempt since 2009 to pull Belarus to their side. This time it will be based on the principle of equidistance, the same principle that was once applied in Ukraine.

What is going on with the Lukashenko regime now is called an attempt to balance its foreign policy. The Europeans welcome this attempt and see in it a wish to get some new footholds on the international arena. The EU’s initial goal is to turn Belarus into a neutral - not pro-Russian - country.

Experts in Europe are trying to find rational reasons for this. The simplest one is that Belarus needs additional funds to survive now that Russia is facing an economic crisis. Foreign political experts are unanimous that Lukashenko is trying to normalize relations with Europe not so much because he wants to democratize his country as because he is receiving much less support from the crisis-stricken Russia and also because he sees the example of Ukraine. German experts formulate this like this: Belarus is moving towards the EU because it is afraid of Putin and is short of money. And also because it no longer wants to take part in the Eurasian Economic Union project. So, this proves that Lukashenko’s motives to integrate with Russia were economic rather than political. All he wanted was more economic support from Russia. And now that he is receiving less, he is looking for alternative sources and is turning his face towards Europe.

In the next few months, Belarus hopes to receive a 3bn loan from Russia. Otherwise, its national currency will fall even lower. But even if it gets the money, it will be just a stopgap measure. And so, it needs support from the West.

While attending the last UN General Assembly session in New York, Lukashenko met with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and asked her for a loan. But the IMF’s precondition will certainly be complex economic reforms.

The Ukrainian scenario is the last thing the Europeans would like to see in Belarus. In that country they need peaceful reforms. The main thing for them now is not to scare Lukashenko off. Their first step may be a new neighborhood policy on Belarus in the framework of the Eastern Partnership program. This approach will recognize the country’s partial economic dependence on Russia. It will be similar to the one they adopted with respect to Armenia.

Minsk’s peaceful turnabout would be one more proof of Russia’s political and economic isolation. For more than a year already the EU has used no terms like democracy, change of regime, political prisoners, human rights with respect to Belarus. The key priority now is trade and some institutional economic reforms.

The progress observed in EU-Belarus relations over the last year will hopefully be continued after the Oct 11 election. After Oct 11, the EU will have weighty grounds for adopting a long-term policy on Belarus. For example, Lukashenko may be offered to sign some basic cooperation agreement in exchange for no more sanctions. Belarus may also be more actively involved in the Eastern Partnership program. But at some stage the EU will insist on real reforms. And this will be a decisive day for Lukashenko as Europe will have to give its “last dictator” a very clear answer. As regards Lukashenko’s political “nestlings,” they will be given power only if they accept the concept that Belarus is also Europe.

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