“The EU needs to act,” says Czech analyst as Lukashenko accuses Prague of organising Minsk protests

Photo: ČTK/AP/Sergei Grits

The Czech Republic has been accused by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of organising demonstrations in the country that erupted after official results of the presidential elections handed the incumbent a landslide victory. The Czech prime minister has condemned the tough crackdown on demonstrators – and says he hopes an EU summit will lead to action.

Alexander Lukashenko,  photo: ČTK/AP/Sergei Grits

Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected on Sunday after receiving 80 percent of the vote, according to official figures. However, there are serious accusations that the vote was rigged and the election has been dismissed by main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s campaign as “contradicting common sense”.

Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček also expressed his doubts about the validity of the election result, saying that current information suggests it was “neither free, nor democratic”.

After the result was announced, demonstrations erupted in the Belarusian capital of Minsk and have since spread to other cities. The protests have been met with a violent response from Belarusian security forces.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: Archive of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš condemned what he called the “brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors” in a tweet on Monday.

Meanwhile, President Lukashenko has accused the Czech Republic of being one of the countries from which demonstrators were organised by telephone during the Sunday demonstrations in Minsk.

Foreign Minister Petříček refuted this in an interview with Czech Radio.

“I must deny words that the Czech government, whether it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or any other state agency, organised any demonstrations. The President [Lukashenko] would have to back up such a statement with clear evidence and I have seen none.”

Photo:  ČTK/AP/Uncredited

Analyst Pavel Havlíček from the Institute for International Affairs is an expert on the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme, which includes Belarus. He says that the accusation by the country’s president may have been aimed at the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“Lukashenko had big issues with reporters from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who were very skilfully and objectively covering the protests, so I would say it was mostly to do with this.

Pavel Havlíček | Photo: Archive of Pavel Havlíček

“But obviously Czechia is a place where, since the 1990s, independent Belarusian critical thinkers are gathering.  Together with Poland and Lithuania, Prague is one of the places where these people can find a safe haven, a place to think and plan.

“Furthermore, the Czech authorities, including the minister of foreign affairs, have a long history of supporting democracy and pro-democracy movements all around Eastern Europe and the world.”

It was not only the Belarusian president who has accused the Czech Republic. Belarus’s Nexta Telegram channel, which urged people to take to the streets on Monday night, tweeted photos of a flash grenade used by government police that featured a Czech label.

However, Zeveta Bojkovice, the company which makes such devices in the Czech Republic, strongly denied this in a statement to Czech Radio, saying that the photographs look like

Photo: ČTK/AP/Uncredited

fakes. The accusation was also rebuffed by Foreign Minister Petříček.

In response to the situation in Belarus, Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki has called for an extraordinary EU summit. His Czech counterpart Andrej Babiš expects that this will lead to an EU wide initiative.

Germany’s Foreign Minister has already called for a review of previously lifted sanctions on the country.

However, analyst Pavel Havlíček says that the EU will be faced by many dilemmas.

“For us in the EU, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential. They are about the whole union and we are trying to stand up for them as well as for universal values all around the world, including Belarus.

Photo: ČTK/AP/Sergei Grits

“From that perspective the EU needs to act. There is a whole number of proposals of measures that the EU can be taking. But, once the EU starts to step up its measures and punish the Belarussian authorities for bloodily suppressing their own citizens and democratic will, the Russian vector will start prevailing.

“It is in the Russian interest to have Lukashenko still in power, but considerably weaker than before in order to have Russian integration. That would lead to nothing else than Russian sovereignty and control over [Belarussian] territory.”

To avoid such an outcome, he says, the EU could draw from experience in dealing with anti-democratic actions by another former Soviet state: Moldova.

Photo: ČTK/AP/Sergei Grits

“I think it would be very appropriate to follow something like the Moldovan track. We have seen this before, like when the Moldovan authorities decided to cancel the electoral process in Chisinau for the mayoral elections, abusing the legal system and putting pressure on the courts just because they did not like the result.

“What the EU has done is switch its support from the authorities to the people of Moldova. Instead of taking it away, which would have affected all of the people in Moldova, they decided to change their support from the government there to civil society, independent media, local and regional authorities and to local activism outside the capital.

“This is actually a very concrete measure and set of proposals that the EU has tried in the past and they worked. We should try the same approach here - to be less government centric and much more people centric from our side.”