By Vitaly Volyanyuk
I have no idea what the foreign ministers of Poland and Germany felt on leaving the Presidential Residence in 38 Karl Marx Street, but the protocol section of their talks with Alexander Lukashenko left a bright impression. Several days prior to the visit of Radosław Sikorski and Guido Westerwelle to Minsk, Western printed media wrote that they planned to discuss the importance of free and fair presidential elections. However, in the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Lukashenko made it clear: there is no need for concern. “The elections will meet the most democratic standards. Their legitimacy is more important to us than to anyone else in the world,” the Head of State asserted.
This is not the first visit to Minsk by top ranking EU politicians. However, I can hardly recall similar attention being paid by the media. Journalists crowded into the Blue Hall of the Presidential Residence. One photographer from the Polish PAP Agency told me that almost all of Warsaw’s largest media companies had sent representatives to the Minsk meeting. Among them were TV channels Telewizja Polska, TVN24, and Polsat, and newspapers Dziennik and Rzeczpospolita. The German journalists were also great in number and I felt that these European colleagues were satisfied by what they’d seen. Instead of the usual prescribed speeches, talks were sincere and appeared constructive.
Mr. Lukashenko sincerely thanked Poland and Germany for working to ensure good relations between Belarus and the EU, during past difficult conditions and the present situation. “It may sound banal, but we’re very much interested in Europe,” the President stressed, adding that ‘Europe also can’t do without Belarus’. Mr. Lukashenko believes that the potential for co-operation is yet to be fully realised. Of course, political and economic sanctions do not contribute to the quick improvement of relations. The President considers that it would be wise to stop using these methods. He recalled the Eastern Partnership programme and stated with regret, “Sadly, we have more hopes than realities now.” Minsk hopes to soon see a quicker ‘materialisation of relations’ with the European Union.
“I know a certain opinion exists: let’s wait until the elections,” Mr. Lukashenko asserted, forestalling any further discussion in this direction. “In this respect, I’d like to note that these are not our first or last elections,” he said. Mr. Sikorski added that Europe hopes that the forthcoming elections will be better than those held in previous years. “They will be much better!” the President added immediately, assuring those present that Belarus is ready to allow observers to monitor vote counting, so that no doubts are cast on the democracy of the process.
Mr. Westerwelle commented that Belarus’ invitation of a large number of foreign observers has been a ‘correct step’. He noted that Poland and Germany wish to see Belarus as a good partner, rather than as a mere neighbour. The European ministers then enumerated the possible benefits of the partnership: financial assistance; economic integration; and easing of the visa regime. In turn, the President noted that Belarus has much to offer Germany and Poland.
The Polish Minister and the Head of the Presidential Administration, Vladimir Makei, spoke about strengthening co-operation and the topic continued as Mr. Sikorski and Mr. Westerwelle met with Belarus’ Foreign Minister, Sergei Martynov.