Foreign policy results of the year: Belarus and the EU are opening
new cooperation possibilities.
Probably, future historians will search the sources of this movement towards to each other, just as foreign editions journalists, striving to interview President Lukashenko, do it today. Open an official site of the President of the Republic of Belarus and see that over the past year all the biggest world editions directed to Minsk their questions.
Note that earlier the European Mass Media didn’t take any notice of the country in the center of Europe. There was practically nothing to read about Belarus, excluding several customary political cliches which didn’t offer any representation of our country, life of our people and economical development... Two years ago during an informal talk the former ambassador of Germany Martin Hekker told me the words which moved me deeply. He said that Belarus is a blind spot on the map of Europe... Is it a problem of informative vacuum?
Yes, it was a problem not long ago. However, if I am not mistaken, Dale Carnegie said that problems mean new possibilities. The question is to transfer them into the tasks.
This was the objective of Europe in the end of 2006 — beginning of 2007. At that time, all the Europeans learned that there is such a country on the map — Belarus. Not even a country but a strategic transit state influencing the vital arteries of the European economy — gas, oil, and transport...
In search of a consensus
Yes, if it weren’t for bad luck we would have no luck at all...
I have recently held a discussion in the editor’s office of the newspaper “Belarus today” in the form of a “round table” with participation of the European Union ambassadors. New possibilities of cooperation of Belarus and the EU were discussed. During this talk European and Belarusian diplomats, politologists, economists, and deputies were sitting at the same table and talked about the problems, transformed into objectives. The ambassador of Latvia Majra Mora frankly expressed her opinion, “Nobody doubted that Belarus is an independent sovereign state. In the end of 2006 — beginning of 2007 we felt this.”
What was happening “in the end of 2006 — beginning of 2007?” Let me remind you that at that time Russia decided to level up the gas price. However, life showed that we shall not dramatize the “dispute of market participants” and “Gazprom” is not the whole Russia. The gas price was the issue of the expert economic strategy of Belarus and Russia. The situation remained unchanged. Europe misinterpreted Mr. Miller’s manipulations (Director of “Gazprom”)! A famous German politologist Alexander Rar estimated the situation this way, “Recent Putin’s announcements about leveling up the gas price from 2007 for Belarusians activated the “Ukrainian reflex” in the European politicians: it is necessary to protect Belarus from the Russian bear.” Later, speaking about the changing approaches of the European Union to Belarus, the politologist constantly underlined, “This began in 2007 when the West thought that Belarus became a victim of the energetic battle with Russia. Certain solidarity was expressed in relation to Minsk.”
However, we can’t say that it was the solidarity dictated by sheer altruism. The Europeans have suddenly felt that “this blind-spot on the map of Europe” plays an important strategic role. This patch between two geopolitical heavyweights, the European Union and Russia, provides transit safety. By the end of this year the Chairman of Minsk forum, a German professor doctor Reiner Lindner explicitly formulated the opinion of the Europeans that “Belarus plays an important role in Europe in the sphere of power economy and transport.” “Finally, Brussels understands it,” Reiner Lindner underlined. He also shared his opinion that there are economic suppositions in Belarus for further development of relations with the EU, especially from the point of view of general energy policy, flows of goods and finances. “In this sense Belarus is a sound member of the European Economic Community,” professor concluded.
This is one of the main results of this year. Besides, the President Lukashenko forecasted it in January 2007 in the interview to the biggest German publication, “Die Welt” newspaper.
Answering the question of the German journalist, “How shall Belarus make a Pan-European Energetic Charter with the European Union?” Alexander Lukashenko answered, “I have already said that we are ready to cooperate with everybody for the provision of our national security and our interests. With the Europeans — undoubtedly. Ukraine and Belarus are the main transit states. I think that we shall make arrangements. The other countries, such as Poland and the Baltic States, connect us. We have already been offered such an idea about consolidation of transit states. We will defend our interests together. This is ahead.”
Choice after elections
Of course, new cooperation possibilities of Belarus and the EU were opened earlier than “in the end of 2006 — beginning of 2007…” To be exact, this happened on July 10, 1994, when Alexander Lukashenko was elected President of the Republic of Belarus. After the election of the first President of Belarus the multiple vector policy was declared the basis of its international strategy. Belarus never had to choose between the West and the East. Its situation on the map of Europe defined the balance of both foreign policy directions.
I think it will be interesting to turn to a primary source, i.e. the President’s opinion about multiple vector policy. Recently “The Financial Times” has asked the question to the President, “It seems to me that Belarus attempts to improve relations with the European Union. Why is it so? And why is it happening now, Mr. President?”
“This is not an attempt and it is not happening only now,” Alexander Lukashenko said. “We always tried to mend our relations with Europe, so to say, because we consider us being a part of Europe and even the center of Europe. You know that a geographical center of Europe is situated in Belarus. This is why it is not correct to speak about mending relations with Europe while we are the center of it. However, we will stick to such notions.
Firstly, let us speak about “now.” Starting from the first day of my holding the office of the President, defining the foreign policy concept, we agreed that our foreign policy should be a multiple vector policy. It can’t be different on the assumption of our location. I have already mentioned that we are the center of Europe.
Secondly, judging by the mentality of our people. Our people are very friendly, unaggressive, and industrious. They used to live relying on their brains and hands. They are very calm and don’t want the aggravation of relations with our neighbors. By that virtue we defined our foreign policy. Generally, economy pushes us to this. We consume only 25–30 per cent of the goods produced by us inside the country. The rest is sold... It means that economy pushes us to carry out the multiple vector policy to be an open and accessible country.
These are the main factors conditioning the multiple vector foreign policy.”
Why does an active dialogue with the European Union in the form we observe become so popular today? Belarusian economists think that the changes in the economy defined a political trend in many ways. Really, 5–6 years ago the Belarusian export share to the European Union states grew quickly. Today we sell more to Europe than to Russia. The export share to the EU increased so much that it became impossible not to take into account a political part of cooperation.
The time of real policy
“Ice broke up,” the ambassador of Great Britain Nigel Gould-Davis said satisfyingly to me, sharing his impressions about the Belarusian Investment Forum which has been recently held in London.
This event became possible owing to the increased and dominating export of Belarusian goods to the European Union. We need to raise other enterprises to the European standards in order to build up export. It means their modernization. Our industry requires foreign investments and modern Western technologies.
London forum became the first large-scale attempt to attract investments to Belarus. The representatives of more than 40 countries were present there. As the matter of fact, the presentation of the whole country took place in London. It was clearly demonstrated there that Belarus strives to improve its business climate. Minsk demonstrates the growing sincere readiness to build new economic relations. London meetings confirmed the image of the country striving to modernization.
Not only the forum was held in London. Several important meetings were also held, such as the meeting with the lord-mayor of London City and the leading businessmen. And a very important meeting of the prime-minister Sidorsky and the Minister of State to Europe, the member of the Cabinet of Ministers of Great Britain Caroline Flint. They had a sincere and open talk. The ambassador Nigel Gould-Davis said, “I think they came to an understanding. Many different topics were discussed dealing with our bilateral relations. Such a meeting is one of the parts of a wider tendency. This is a fence-mending between Belarus and the European Union. This is an achievement.”
...Ice broke up after the parliamentary elections held in the country on September 28. Then OSCE noted a certain progress in the election process, and the Belarusian government promised to work at the errors pointed out by the European observers. This is a wonderful example of developing a dialogue... It doesn’t mean that we always agree. Nigel Gould-Davis said to me that if we had always agreed there would have been nothing to talk about with us. There are moments of consent as well as the moments of inconsistency. This is natural. The main thing is that the dialogue continues. Only in this case we will be able to understand each other better, to reach agreements, and to learn why our views are not always the same. If we are able to explain our opinions, this will help to further development.
Life confirms it. Soon after the parliamentary elections in Belarus, the EU noted that it lifted the sanctions in relation to Belarusian government representatives. In particular, the prohibition against issuing visas to some Belarusian officials. It means that the EU admitted unproductiveness and ineptness of such a policy.
The meeting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Sergey Martynov with the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and the EU “three” on October 13 in Luxembourg became the first real step to rapprochement. The Belarusian minister underlined that “Belarus us interested in very productive and substantial relations with the European Union. We are ready to work at it.” At the same time, the agreement was reached on the arrival of the EU delegation to Minsk.
In three weeks the delegation of the European Commission headed by the Deputy General Directorate for external relations of the European Commission Hugh Mingarelli made a working visit to Minsk. During the negotiations the states discussed the perspectives of further interaction of Belarus with the European Commission taking into account the decisions of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the EU member states accepted in Luxembourg...
Europe is our home
The borders of Belarus and the European Union, which are more than one thousand kilometers long, have become common since May 1, 2004. This obliges to carry out a conversation, to look for the points of contact in policy and economy.
According to the explorer of western and eastern civilizations, the Nobel prizewinner Octavio Paz, civilization is a translation of common ideas to the language of practice.
The Head of Administration of the President of Belarus Vladimir Makey formulated the program ideas for a new stage in relations of Belarus and the European Union at Minsk forum.
He noted that over many years Belarus was undeservingly exposed to the political and economic pressing and it is good that there is an understanding in the European Union now — to continue the former policy counter-productively. According to him, there are all suppositions for the activation of relations of Belarus and the EU and “if we get stuck to criticism at this favorable moment, we will surely reach a dead end.”
“The Government of Belarus is ready to sincere and responsible discussion of all the problems in our relations,” Vladimir Makey confessed and placed an emphasis on the fact that they are ready not only for discussion, but to the realization of certain steps in the near future.
Today the most important objective for the country is modernization. Speaking about economy, liberalization means innovative technologies etc. Vladimir Makey said that Belarus looks at modernization through the prism of cooperation with all the EU states.
The Head of Administration of the President expressed his pity that “in the face of global threats a part of Europe as if latches from the other part.” “I am sure that several years ago the European Union made a big mistake rejecting the idea of “expanded Europe,” Vladimir Makey said. “We shall reanimate this slogan.” He thinks that Europe is incorrect and egoistic creating new separating lines in the region, “Berlin walls” in the form of visa barriers, hindering ordinary citizens, and offered to dismantle this wall “brick after brick.” In his opinion, the visa issue is not a private problem. This is a key issue of Belarusian and European relations.
The most different aspects of relations of Belarus and the European Union were discussed at Minsk forum. A high-priority and, in my opinion, the most perspective Polish and Swedish project, the so-called “Eastern partnership,” providing real possibilities for our country to cooperate with the European Union states closer...
However, Belarus is ready to make certain steps to the rapprochement with the European Union. Today public authorities, civil society representatives and the EU experts collectively discuss the reform of electoral legislation, the work of Mass Media, the role of the opposition in the country...
It seems to me that the ambassador of Lithuania to Belarus Edminas Bagdonas was sincere saying that “the situation we are having today, the planned forward movement shall be developed; we shall use the chance for rapprochement. It is odd for me to hear the discussions about the location of Europe and Belarus in it... Are there any doubts? Belarus is, was, and remains the part of Europe. The structures are changing, but the essence remains the same. We have the common history and remain neighbors. This is an unavoidable fact.”
I intentionally quoted the opinion of the Lithuanian diplomat. It seems to me that our neighbors played an important role in mending the dialogue with Brussels. Lithuania, Latvia, Warsaw always supported Minsk in its offers relating to liberalization of the visa regime. The diplomats of these countries, without exaggeration, played the role of our advocates in Brussels, tracing the drop in price for Schengen visas. Over a year this issue was debated in the European Parliament, Bundestag, and European Commission... This is a result: we have already signed the agreement on mutual trips. The agreement on the issues of the mutual trips of the border district citizens — to 50 kilometers to the border — is ready and is on the stage of agreement with the European Commission.
Let the European tree grow!
...This is one more certain manifestation of neighborliness. I won’t conceal that our group of journalists, going to the excursion to Vilnius, was glad when the ambassador of Lithuania to Belarus Edminas Bagdonas met us near the Cathedral of Saint Anna and accompanied our bus straight to the Presidential palace. He became our guide, conducted us by the halls, including the cabinets where the President Valdas Adamkus works.
After this incredible excursion the ambassador Bagdonas invited us to the palace park and pointed out a young and strong oak. This is also a palace sight, the president’s tree planted in 1997. That year there was held a conference in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where Alexander Lukashenko took part. He also visited the palace of the President of Lithuania and met his former Lithuanian colleague Algirdas Brazauskas.
Vilnius conference of 1997, which gathered the heads of the dozen of states of Central and Eastern Europe, concentrated on good neighborly relations as the main principle of regional stability and cooperation.
The tree, symbolizing cooperation, has been growing under the windows of the Presidential Palace in Vilnius for 11 years already. If the tree grows, it will bear fruits. Moreover, it has such strong roots...
Besides, the image of the “tree of Vilnius conference” tunes to a philosophic mood. A tree is one of the central oldest symbols. On one of the paleolithic amulets, it was depicted as a tree with roots, though the roots are under the soil... This is not the image of the plant, and a holy object, which essential features are the crown and roots. Mythology created the idea of the world tree. Carl Gustav Jung said, “A man without mythology becomes the product of statistics.”
Rephrasing this interesting statement of the famous thinker, I would say that a European citizen without his mythology, confessing a single European culture, a single European home, is just the product of statistics... And vice versa, cooperation fills Europe with spirit and sense.