Belarus’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, should learn from the Arab Spring and prepare for a peaceful democratic transition, says Poland’s foreign minister.
“It would be better for him not to learn from [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarak or [Libya’s Muammer] Gaddafi but from Polish General Jaruzelski’s 1989 example,” said Radek Sikorski (left).
He defended the decision to keep Belarus in the European Union’s “Eastern Partnership” program despite the regime’s crackdown on the opposition after last December’s disputed elections. Poland currently holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency.
“We think the arrangements and advantages of the Eastern Partnership would benefit the Belarusian people,” Sikorski told The Financial Times on a trip to London.
The British government this week condemned the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Belarus. “Repression of the political opposition, civil society and the independent media continued throughout the second quarter of 2011,” said a report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Sikorski hinted that the EU’s gravity model of democratization had not yet been killed by EU enlargement fatigue, suggesting that association agreements with Ukraine [despite its recent democratic regression], Georgia and Moldova held out the prospect of future EU accession, and that Croatia and Serbia were even closer to EU membership.
“We tell [the Eastern Partnership countries] that they are to us a little bit like what we [Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary] were to the EU many years ago,” he said. “Namely, they need to convince us that despite their differences they are capable of collaborating, to convince us that they are clubbable.”
The EU has been criticized for neglecting the role of civil society in democratizing its eastern neighborhood and adopting overly top-down, state-driven approaches.
But the Arab Spring and Belarus crackdown “prompted the EU to reconsider the role of civil society,” notes analyst Agnieszka ?ada. “A bottom-up approach would strengthen a grassroots European vocation, creating a push for reform in some [Eastern Partnership] countries through social pressure on governments,” she adds.
The EU had shifted from a stability-first approach to the Arab states along its southern periphery, Sikorski said, noting that Warsaw had proposed a European Endowment for Democracy, modeled on the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, to provide a more flexible and focused instrument for democracy assistance.
“I believe we didn’t give enough support for democratization in the past. This is something where Poland has value-added; we are a country that struggled for freedom, achieved it, made a success of it, and are now showing how to share it with others.”