EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - At a pro-democracy fund-raiser in Warsaw, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski compared Belarus to Tunisia and told Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko he will not last long.
The event on Wednesday (2 February) saw the EU pledge to increase funding for Belarusian civil society from ?4 million to ?15.6 million over the next two years. Sweden pledged ?7 million extra. The US put in some ?2 million. Denmark, Romania and the UK also promised money, creating a total of ?87 million in new and old funds.
The Warsaw donors' conference saw over 40 delegations from European countries, Canada and the US (Photo: msz.pl)
The cash is to be spent on a mixed bag of programmes, including direct relief for victims of repression, NGOs, independent media and higher education for Belarusian students in exile, such as the European Humanities University in Lithuania.
"Perhaps the experience of Mr Ben Ali and Mr Mubarak will make Mr Lukashenko reflect that the path he has chosen is not the best for him personally," the Polish foreign minister said at the event, according to newswire reports, in a reference to the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
"Mr Lukashenko, you are losing. Even in countries which recognised the elections, nobody believes that you got 80 percent of the vote ... Sooner or later, you will a have to flee from your citizens and find shelter in a country that professes even lower standards than you do."
Speaking at an earlier press conference in Brussels on Monday, Mr Sikorski said EU foreign ministers reacted positively to his proposal to set up a permanent pro-democracy foundation to stimulate reform in neighbouring countries.
Recalling outside help for Poland in the run-up to the 1989 overthrow of the Communist authorities, he said: "He [any given Polish dissident] knew that if he was interned, someone would take care of his family. That if his car was taken, someone would help him to replace it."
"We Poles know how it's done. We have people who know how to do these things and I think the EU has recognised this."
Putting the EUR87 million figure into perspective, EU-Belarus trade is currently worth some ?12 billion a year. Russia, Belarus' top trade partner, has declined to criticise it's on-off ally over last December's crackdown against the opposition.
The last set of EU sanctions against Belarus did not target state-owned Belarusian exporters Belneftekhim and Belaruskalii, in part due to concern over the impact on European companies. Proposals to block IMF and other international aid were put on hold.
The EU's asset freeze covering 157 Belarusian officials also neglected to include Yuri Sivakov, a former official named in a leaked US cable as Mr Lukashenko's bag-man in an international money-laundering ring that includes banks in Poland and the US.