By Victor Mikhailov
The 13th Minsk Forum has been held in a constructive atmosphere, as part of a joint German-Belarusian project primarily tackling relations between our two states. As a rule, such discussions usually cover pan-European problems and this year was no exception, being named Belarus and the European Union after Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities in Politics, Economy and Society.
The issue is acute for Belarus, since we have set ourselves the ambitious task of achieving a European level of prosperity. The experience of a developed country, such as Germany, may prove very useful. Belarus can learn from German political experience, notes the Head of the Presidential Administration, Vladimir Makei. He recalls the idea of ‘everyone’s prosperity’ — as developed by the well-known economist and former Federal Chancellor of Germany, Ludwig Erhard — calling it a key aspect of the presidential election campaign in Belarus and of Belarusian strategy overall.
The Forum has always been an open venue for dialogue on topical issues and the current event has taken place during an important political period — a fact which can hardly go unnoticed. It is 65 years since the end of WWII, with Germany recently celebrating the 20th anniversary of its reunification. “Unlike borders on a map, we cannot separate divides in human consciousness overnight. Germany is united today and so should be Europe. We share common values and a common future. We must understand this, coming to this understanding consciously,” stresses Mr. Makei.
Much was spoken at the event of the ‘economisation’ of relations. The Belarusian economy is going through a special period of structural reform, which will only be possible if new investments, technologies and advanced experience are provided. German partners possess all these and their assistance could be significant. Belarus has overcome the global economic crisis with help from foreign partners. However, according to Mr. Makei, despite our two sides learning how to deal with financial and economic problems jointly, it can be hard to break away from old, negative stereotypes. Mr. Makei notes that isolation and sanctions remain, but emphasises, “It’s important to focus on realising the huge potential of the Belarus-EU relationship, rather than allocating blame for lost opportunities.”
Evidently, Belarus has the right to expect more decisive steps from the EU; Schengen visas were compared with the Berlin Wall at the Forum. The ‘Schengen Wall’ is virtual, yet tangible, and should be removed to aid European integration. A ‘wait-and-see approach’ is inappropriate. Without Belarus, and other Eastern European states yet to join the Schengen zone, the configuration of contemporary Europe is incomplete.
European politicians hope to see more active co-operation with Belarus, as noted by Ronald Pofalla, a German Bundestag deputy, the Head of the Federal Chancellery and Federal Minister for Special Tasks. He spoke of the necessity of building positive partnership relations between Belarus and the EU, noting that Belarus will benefit from a stronger partnership with the EU. He believes that high political level contacts, recently set up, will support such partnerships and is certain that the EU is ready for major collaboration with sovereign Belarus. The German official sees the forthcoming presidential elections in Belarus as a ‘touchstone’ and is pleased by the more open atmosphere of the election campaign. He praises the fact that the country has invited international observers and has taken into account OSCE recommendations regarding electoral legislation.
The Forum brought together around 500 representatives from political, economic and social spheres, from Belarus, Germany and a range of other Europeans states. The economy was a major topic but the discussions also covered humanitarian issues.
Speaking of Belarus-EU liaisons, the Chairman of the Minsk Forum, Rainer Lindner, stressed that it’s unwise to say that most issues depend on the forthcoming elections in Belarus. He advocates reduced visa costs for citizens on both sides. Regional collaboration was a major political topic of the event. Interestingly, a new Belarusian-German dictionary has been released, testifying to the long-term prospects for mutual collaboration between our two European countries.