Czech PM: EU must encourage Belarusians not to fear own “velvet revolution”

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Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš did not mince words this weekend in reaction to the ongoing crackdowns in Belarus. Using analogies of both 1968 and 1989, he said the European Union has to encourage Belarusians not to be afraid of carrying out their own “velvet revolution”. Meanwhile the foreign minister said that Czechia could consider acting unilaterally if EU discussions stall.

Usually careful in his statements that concern Eastern Europe, Andrej Babiš has become far more outspoken in recent days amid continuing protests in Belarus by people unhappy with the official results of a contested presidential election that saw the country’s long-time leader, Alexander Lukashenko, win by a landslide.

In his weekly Sunday video speech, shared on social media, the Czech prime minister laid hard into the Belarusian president and compared the situation in the country to episodes in Czech history.

Andrej Babiš, photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

“What is happening there is an absolute catastrophe. Right now it is being decided how this will end. Whether like our Velvet Revolution in November 1989, with real free elections not manipulated by a dictator, or, following yesterday’s call between President Lukashenko and Putin, it could end up like in 1968, when Russian tanks destroyed the Prague Spring.”

Mr. Babiš said the people of Belarus need Europe’s support and that he has been speaking to several leaders of EU states about how the union should react.

“The European Union now has the chance to take action. It is good that our ministers of foreign affairs have decided to enact sanctions, but Europe needs to act fast. Europe’s problem is that we all have to agree of course, but we have no time.

“The sanctions have to come in fast. But someone needs to negotiate with President Putin on behalf of Europe and make it clear that it is not possible that the same happens to Belarus as happened to Crimea or to us in 1968. And those concerns are real.”

His statement that Central Europe’s Visegrad Four countries, of which Czechia is a member, should play their own role was seconded on Monday by Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, who spoke to Czech Radio.

“States from Central and Eastern Europe perhaps understand the situation in Belarus more than other EU members, due to their own history. We are working very intensely with Poland and are also in contact with the Baltic States to help civil society in Belarus.

Tomáš Petříček, photo: ČTK/Slavomír Kubeš

“We want to urge the EU to be more active and clear in its expectations of how the situation will develop. If the discussion on sanctions were somehow to stall, we could also look into a national approach.”

The list of Belarusian officials who will be impacted by EU sanctions is currently being established, based on their role in the elections and subsequent crackdowns on protesters. Czech Radio analyst Filip Nerad says these could come into effect in two weeks’ time.

“If everything goes smoothly and the first draft of the sanctions list is delivered to the EU ambassadors this week, the process could be completed by the end of August when there is an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin, who could approve the list. Everything is now in the hands of EU diplomacy and member state foreign ministers.”

The situation in Belarus will be further discussed at an extraordinary meeting of EU presidents and prime ministers on Wednesday.