Minister of State Michael Roth was in the Belarusian capital Minsk on 13 and 14 March. Twenty-five years after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Belarus, Roth conducted political talks and opened the exhibition “Maly Trostenets extermination camp – history and remembrance”. He met representatives of civil society and had a discussion with students from various Belarusian universities.
Marking 25 years of diplomatic relations
The Republic of Belarus and Germany re‑established diplomatic relations on 13 March 1992. Exactly 25 years later, Minister of State for Europe Roth met the Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei in Minsk to mark this anniversary. Roth and Makei stressed the importance of these relations to both countries but also addressed critical issues in a frank and constructive discussion. The Minister of State praised Belarus’ reform efforts as well as the increasing readiness to engage in dialogue. However, he also pointed out the need for further concrete steps to expand relations between Belarus and the EU. He stated that the rule of law and abolition of the death penalty, currently the greatest obstacle to Belarus forging closer ties with the Council of Europe, were of special importance.
Maly Trostenets: German-Belarusian history
The fact that relations with Belarus have never been so diverse or broad‑based is not a given in the light of Germany and Belarus’ shared history. Maly Trostenets, today a suburb of Minsk, was the site of the largest German extermination camp on the territory of the Soviet Union between 1942 and 1944.
Minister of State Roth opened the touring exhibition “Maly Trostenets extermination camp – history and remembrance”, a joint project devised by German and Belarusian historians. The exhibition was initiated by the Association for International Exchange and Education in Dortmund and the Johannes Rau International Centre for Education and Exchange in Minsk. Minister of State Roth praised it as a successful example of enhanced understanding between the two sides in dealing with their shared history. He said that the aim was to anchor Trostenets as a European centre of remembrance in the eyes of the public.
Minister of State Roth was especially moved by the words of the survivor Kurt Marx, born in 1925, whose parents were murdered in Maly Trostenets in 1942.
Potential for cooperation not yet exhausted
These shared experiences show how important exchange and dialogue are. Dialogue was thus the focus of an intensive and lively discussion with students from various Belarusian universities. Minister of State Roth called the cooperation between the civil societies of the two countries the “cornerstone of good relations”. He said that the partial lifting of the visa requirement by Belarus on 12 February was a positive signal which would help cultivate exchange, especially among young people and students in Germany and Belarus.
Minister of State Roth made it clear that the potential for cooperation between the two countries had not yet been exhausted. During a meeting with parliamentarians, including a representative of the opposition, Minister of State Roth called once more for the cautious reform course already embarked upon to be resolutely continued. Progress in the rule of law and democracy would lead to closer ties with the EU and increase Belarus’ appeal as a location for investment. He went on to say that Belarus was a European country and that this should not be forgotten. That was one of the reasons why he was so keen to see the country’s relations with Germany and the EU expand further.