Over the last weeks, we all saw the shocking images from Belarus: children, women and men freezing in forests; Belarusian border guards pushing people into barbed wire.
That is why the international community has responded firmly to Lukashenko’s irresponsible actions: for the sake of the migrants and refugees abused by the Belarusian regime – and for the sake of the Belarusian people who are suffering ongoing repression.
Almost 500 days since the so-called presidential election of 2020, the domestic situation in Belarus is worse than ever.
Protestors and opposition members have been arrested, silenced or – like some of you here today – driven into exile. The number of political prisoners is at a record high of more than 870. And hundreds of cases of torture have been reported.
The regime also has closed down remaining spaces for civil society. Even completely unpolitical organisations and associations have been shut down.
And Lukashenko continues to refuse all dialogue with the opposition – his constitutional reform process is a sham.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This certainly is a grim summary – but I don’t say this to discourage you. I am convinced that Belarus will see better days.
To move forward in the immediate future, three things will be crucial:
First, the Belarusian opposition in exile must remain committed to the cause and stay united. Lukashenko hopes to wear you down over time – but you can prove him wrong.
Second, the European Union and its partners are keeping up pressure on the Lukashenko regime:
Last week, the Foreign Affairs Council pushed ahead a fifth sanctions package, which includes Belarusian judges, prosecutors and members of the security services responsible for human rights violations.
Together with partners, Germany has established the “International Accountability Platform for Belarus”. The platform has since taken up its work and is supporting criminal cases under universal jurisdiction against perpetrators in Belarus.
Third, Western countries must adjust their assistance to Belarusian civil society and opposition. As supporting activities in Belarus has become increasingly impossible, we have to increase our work with those in exile.
On a national level, Germany is therefore reviewing its 21 million euro “Action Plan for the Belarusian Civil Society”.
And events like today’s conference are providing the Belarusian opposition with an important platform. That is why the European Union intends to give Belarusian civil society a voice at the Eastern Partnership Summit in December by organising a side-event.
I would also like to send a message to Moscow at this point: The Kremlin is protecting Lukashenko because it considers him a guarantor of stability. But recent events have shown again: He is instead leading Belarus into turmoil and isolation. Russia must engage with democratic Belarus – also to honour the special ties between the Russian and the Belarusian people.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
Looking into the future, we are jointly preparing for the day that Belarus will break free.
The opposition has been working on a draft constitution – and the European Commission has presented a 3 billion euro economic support package for a future democratic Belarus.
These are important steps, but more work lies ahead – and our discussions today will serve as impetus for it.
Thank you, Alexander for convening today’s conference, which indeed is an important contribution to a “prosperous and safe future for Belarus”.
Thank you very much.