The images currently reaching us from Minsk and other parts of Belarus couldn’t be more contrasting. On the one hand, there are people from all walks of life who, after hair-raisingly rigged elections, are demonstrating peacefully for a different, democratic Belarus. Their courage to take to the streets in unabated protest against violence and for free and fair elections as well as for the release of political prisoners is impressive for all of us. On the other hand, we have a martial security apparatus that, on Lukashenko’s orders, beats down, imprisons and also mistreats peaceful demonstrators. Every week, hundreds of women and men are taken away or kidnapped – from schools, universities, factories or simply from the streets – often merely for carrying the symbol of a democratic Belarus, the white-red-white flag.
The Coordination Council, in which the opposition has rallied around the betrayed and expelled presidential candidate Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya and which is made up not only of active opposition members, but also of ordinary people in Belarus, is bearing the brunt of the regime’s harsh approach.
Maria Kolesnikova, who courageously ripped up her passport to avoid being deported, ended up in prison, as have Maxim Znak and Sergei Dylevsky. Pavel Latushko and others were threatened and forced to leave the country, and even Svetlana Alexievich, the 72-year-old Nobel Prize laureate, is being harassed. Last week, it was only thanks to the courageous intervention of numerous European diplomats – including the German Ambassador – that she was prevented from being arrested in her own home.
Especially for us Germans, who are currently commemorating our own peaceful revolution and reunification 30 years ago, there can and must be no doubt about on whose side we stand: on the side of the people peacefully fighting against violence and for their rights.
Therefore, we will continue to support Belarusian civil society, for example by advocating independent media reporting – after all, German journalists have also become victims of repression by the Lukashenko regime – and by standing up for threatened activists as well as for the victims of violence and looking for ways to help them.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have repeatedly called on Lukashenko to enter into a dialogue with the protestors. However, he continues to go down the path of violence and oppression, seeking support from Moscow. Time and again, we have proposed mediation – especially through the OSCE, of which Belarus is a member and whose values it has committed to uphold. It is precisely for this reason that the OSCE continues to be predestined as a format for convening round-table discussions.
But we must also face the facts. All offers are falling on deaf ears in Minsk. Instead of talking to the people in his country, Lukashenko puts them behind bars. Anyone who does this must reckon with consequences.
That is why we in the European Union imposed sanctions from an early stage on those who are verifiably responsible for electoral fraud and human rights violations. We were in agreement on this at the meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers here in Berlin and will now implement this swiftly. We will discuss how to proceed in Brussels – in the EU Foreign Affairs Council – on Monday of next week. But I also say quite candidly that, if the violence against the peaceful opposition doesn’t stop, then these measures will have to be extended to considerably more people, and then we’ll also be talking about Mr Lukashenko.
Russia also bears a very special responsibility in this situation. This stems from its close and special relationship with Belarus, which, incidentally the Belarusian opposition is not calling into question. But Moscow will certainly not win the support of the people in Belarus with – as has been the case to date – unconditional support for Lukashenko and hybrid influence. That is why we have, once again, strongly urged both President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov for Russia to also commit to initiating a dialogue at the OSCE level and to tell Mr Lukashenko in no uncertain terms that this is also what Moscow demands.
Ladies and gentlemen, nobody wants a new geopolitical crisis at the heart of Europe. All those – and I mean those in Moscow in particular – who already see this as the second Maidan or the second Ukraine should in fact know better and be aware that there is no comparison between Ukraine and Belarus on this issue. The flags of the European Union were waved on the Maidan. We’re not seeing similar images in Belarus. The people in Belarus want to achieve one thing, and one thing only: a genuine democracy and free and fair elections – and nothing else. For us within the European Union, this isn’t about detaching Belarus from Russia and incorporating it into the European Union, but simply about working to ensure that the people of Belarus can decide for themselves, in a free and fair election, which path they want to take. That’s why this isn’t about whether or not this is a second Ukraine.
At any rate, we in Germany – both in the Federal Government and within the European Union – continue to stand ready to support all solutions that take into account the legitimate key demands of the demonstrators, namely an end to violence, the release of all political prisoners and free and fair elections.
Thank you very much.