Belarus opposition seeks Slovak support in EU

Aleksandr Milinkevich, photo:

The top opposition leader in Belarus says Slovakia is still searching for a clear policy towards Belarus. Aleksandr Milinkevich was speaking during a visit to Bratislava where he sought support for pro-democratic forces in Belarus. President Alexander Lukashenko's rule of Belarus is marked by violence against dissidents and elections which are widely regarded as illegitimate. The opposition leader met Foreign Minister Jan Kubis - but not Prime Minister Robert Fico.

In 2003 then opposition leader and current PM Robert Fico met the Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk. Fico then described the meeting as a trade visit aimed to create opportunities for Slovak entrepreneurs. Lukashenko's propaganda, however, used Fico's visit as an argument to prove that Belarus does not face international isolation. The Western European countires considers the Belarussian regime of Alexander Lukashenko the last European dictatorship. According to observers, the presidential elections in March, from which Lukashenko emerged as winner, were rigged. Milinkevich, one of Lukashenko's rival candidates, ended up in prison when the police cracked down on the crowd protesting against the manipulated polls.

Milinkevic: "We strongly wish for your help to our struggle to intensify. I beg that Slovakia become our envoy in Brussels. Slovakia has experiences with the totalitarian regime and therefore it can easily present the problems of Belarussians in the EU. We know what are our internal problems and we know that we are the only ones that can bring democracy in Belarus but we can't do it without the help of other democratic countries"

Milinkevich stopped over in Slovakia on his way to Strasbourg where he is to receive an Andrei Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought from the European Parliament on Tuesday. The Slovak Parliament's chairmen of committees on legal affairs and human rights, Laszlo Nagy, promised Milinkevich that they will urge the officials in Minsk to release its political prisoners.

Nagy: "We will demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, Kozulin especially, as his life is in danger. Kozulin has been on a hunger-strike for two months, and has lost 40 kilos. Both parliamentary committee chairmen are to ask Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Jan Kubis to ensure that Slovakia as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council puts collective pressure on the Belarus government to release Kozulin"

Kozulin, a former university professor, was sentenced to 5.5 years in jail for organising an illegal protest against the re-election of President Lukasenko earlier this year. Kozulin started the hunger-strike with the objective of forcing discussion on Belarus by the U.N. Security Council of which Slovakia is currently a member, and draw the attention of the international community to the "illegality" of the regime in Belarus. Mikulas Dzurinda, ex-PM and head of the senior opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union party also promised to help the Belarussian opposition

Dzurinda: "We will do our utmost - in Slovakia as well as in Europe - in order that also in Belarus gradually positive tendencies prevail until the complete victory of the democratic opposition."

Support at EU level came at least in a verbal form from the EU Commissioner from Slovakia, Jan Figel.

Figel: "The European Union is creating new space of support for cooperation with neighboring countries starting in 2007. The program of the European neighborhood includes also Belarus. A large portion of the assistance is allocated for development of democratization, free media, support for education, among others."

All in all Milinkevich left Slovakia with a bag full of promises. As for Fico's meeting with Lukashenko in 2003, he said that Slovak politicians should always be focused on principles and the observance of human rights in Belarus.