As Minsk edges further away from the European fold, can Poland entice it back?
Since Belarus's disputed Presidential elections in December 2010 Poland has dramatically increased its focus on its eastern neighbour. In recent days Poland, along with Lithuania, has dropped the charge for entry visas for Belarussian citizens as well as made it easier for students to study in Poland. These efforts are coupled with cultural support such as BELSAT, a Belorussian language TV station which broadcasts in Belarus.
This program of support has become a key foreign policy objective of the Polish government, with the Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski saying "We want to help our neighbours strengthen their European identity by enabling them to have more frequent contacts with the Poles and other citizens of the European Union,". Poland is setting itself up to be the new West Germany with a mission of demonstrating to ordinary Bellarussians what life could be like.
This show of benevolence has many factors which intertwine to focus Poland's attention on Belarus. Firstly, there are approx 400,000 ethnic Poles living in Belarus.
These people routinely are subjected to abuse and persecution by the authorities. Secondly, Russia sill considers Belarus a key territory in its foreign policy and thus Poland feels threatened by extension: a key foreign policy goal for Poland since the end of the cold war has been to establish a buffer zone of freedom and liberty. This has been the driving principle behind Poland's Eastern Partnership initiative within the EU. Thirdly, Poland feels a duty to continue the battle for freedom: just as it was helped in winning its freedom it feels that it should aide others in obtaining theirs. This is perhaps the fruition of the old slogan "For their freedom and ours" by which many Poles fought and died in 19th Century Europe.
This last motive is perhaps key to understanding Polish foreign policy over the last twenty years. Whether it be support for NATO intervention in Kosovo in order to halt ethnic killings or peace-keeping in Afghanistan, Poland has maintained a belief that human-rights exist in an absolute sense and that if you enjoy such rights it is your duty to help others obtain them. The question only remains as to whether Poland's EU colleagues will join it in the endeavour. Poland has pledged 10$ Euro to support opposition activities, but without firm support from richer EU countries Poland's resources could dry up quickly.