(Live video link)
Markus Meckel is right, of course. Today’s meeting is not like those we know from previous years.
The crisis we have all witnessed in the past months has fundamentally changed Belarus. The old system is crumbling ‒ and a new Belarus is emerging. What we all have in common here is that we can identify with this new Belarus and thus want to help it to succeed.
As we look at Belarus these days, we all feel hope, concern, courage and despair when we see how brave women and men take to the streets week after week in Minsk, Grodno, Brest and many other towns in the country.
They demonstrate peacefully for democracy. They demand that their voices be heard in free and fair elections. And they have our support on that.
But the old Belarus still exists and we still have to deal with it ‒ security forces who intimidate, beat and also arrest Demonstrators.
A state apparatus that fires critical journalists and striking workers and expels protesting students.
And a man who refuses to engage in dialogue and throws thousands of innocent people in this country into prison.
Since the election in August, there have been over 30,000 arrests, 1000 prosecutions, well over 100 political prisoners, and also deaths. And so far, not one member of the security forces has been prosecuted.
My dear Svetlana,
Your courage in the face of such repression symbolises the desire of the people in your country for democracy, freedom and human dignity.
That is why I want to reiterate what I have already said on other occasions, namely that we want to accompany and support you and your fellow Belarusians in this process. That does not only go for Germany. It goes for the European Union, too.
We often express our support verbally, but we want to do more than that.
- As Lukashenko and his cronies continue to choose truncheons over serious national dialogue, we have imposed sanctions in the European Union – and not only imposed them, but also furthered and tightened them.
And if Lukashenko does not get his supporters under control and if they refuse to back down, then we will expand these sanctions one by one. We have decided on this path in the EU.
It is important to note that our sanctions are aimed directly at the pillars of the Lukashenko regime.
And we are currently talking with our partners about how to gather evidence that will stand up in court of the human rights violations that occur every day, so that the perpetrators can be prosecuted in the future.
- Germany is also increasing its support for civil society in Belarus, both bilaterally and via EU channels. We are funding projects on inclusion and on training journalists. We do not want to allow Lukashenko to continue beating his civil society out of his way.
That is why I am particularly grateful to our Polish friends. My dear Zbigniew, as a neighbouring country of Belarus, Poland has done a great deal in the past months. We have discussed this many times. You have taken in many members of the Belarusian opposition. And in the Belaruski Dom ‒ the Belarusian House ‒ in Warsaw, you have given them their own refuge.
As you know, Zbigniew, Germany supports the Polish initiative for EU economic assistance following free elections in Belarus. And we are urging the Belarusian state to allow the Polish and Lithuanian ambassadors to return to Minsk as soon as possible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Germany and Belarus share a past, regrettably a dark one.
During the Second World War, Germany’s behaviour towards the Belarusian population was such that we had to assume an incredible amount of guilt. No region paid a higher toll in the Nazi war of annihilation in Eastern Europe than the so-called “bloodlands” in which the present-day Republic of Belarus is located. We haven’t forgotten this in Germany.
I’m therefore grateful that we have been able to build bridges between the people of our two countries in recent years. This is what the History Workshop on the site of the former Minsk ghetto stands for. And our joint commission of historians has finally been able to begin its work this year.
My dear Markus, the Minsk Forum and the German-Belarusian Society naturally play a leading role when it comes to building bridges between Germany and Belarus.
You organised the Forum this year despite the dual burden of the political crisis and the pandemic. I would like to thank you and all those involved. All of us are experiencing how difficult it is at the moment to organise our work during the pandemic. That is why it is all the more crucial that we do not allow the difficulties we currently face to deter us from continuing to fight for democracy and freedom.
It is important that there be greater contact between the people of our countries. You help to ensure this. And we want to play our part in doing so today in order to support democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the new Belarus.
Thank you very much.