By Joanna Sopinska
The European Commission has spoken in favour of a quick, decisive and two-fold reaction to the brutal crackdown by the Belarusian regime on post-election protests, on 19-20 December 2010 in Minsk. Addressing an extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), on 12 January, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule advocated imposing "in a matter of days" a set of sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his regime, accompanied by strong support for the country's opposition, civil society, independent media and students. "We must react properly by using targeted measures against the Belarusian authorities but without isolating ordinary citizens," said Fule.
He sais the sanctions are likely to include a visa ban on high-ranking officials responsible for the 19-20 December repressions, including Lukashenko. The measures aim at supporting democratic movements in the country and should, according to Fule, include concrete support for the opposition, independent media and civil society as well as a visa facilitation system to ease administrative and financial burdens on Belarusian citizens who want to travel to or study in the EU. "We should keep channels of direct support to civil society, opposition and independent media open," said Fule. "Visa facilitation should remain on top of our agenda," he added.
Fule argued against expelling Belarus from the Eastern Partnership initiative, suggesting that "it is essential that the current crisis is managed within the regional context too." However, he advocated putting on ice current talks with Minsk on a joint interim agreement (negotiations on this new accord were launched following the release of all political prisoners by Lukashenko's regime in 2008).
The representatives of the Parliament's main political groups broadly supported the Commission's two-fold approach.
The extraordinary AFET meeting was also attended by representatives of Belarusian opposition and civil society organisations, who called on the EU to step up economic and political pressure on Lukashenko's regime to win freedom for some 600 political prisoners still behind bars. "We need strict actions. You have the key to the prisons in Belarus. We depend on your solidarity," said Eva Neklyaeva, daughter of presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev, who was beaten before the polls closed on 19 December and was then dragged from his hospital bed and put into prison.
On the same day, Neklyaeva and other leading representatives of the Belarusian opposition and civil society met with the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, who underlined the "EU's solidarity with and support to those detained on political grounds and their families". In a subsequent meeting with Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, Ashton called for "the immediate release of those detained on political grounds" and for "an immediate end to the persecution of opposition, democratic forces and representatives of civil society".