Zeman meets opposition in unofficial mission to Belarus

Milos Zeman, photo: CTK

On Thursday Prime Minister Milos Zeman visited Belarus, the last dictatorial regime in Europe, not as the Czech Prime Minister but as the head of the Socialist International's Committee for peace, democracy and human rights. Mr. Zeman stressed several times that he was not visiting Belarus to discuss economic issues, but human rights. Alena Skodova has more:

Milos Zeman, photo: CTK
Prime Minister Milos Zeman told Radio Liberty that the main objective of his Belorussian mission was to initiate a political dialogue between the government and the opposition, which, as he put it, was almost non-existent.

The Czech Prime Minister met representatives of the Belorussian opposition and trade unions as well as editors in chief of several local newspapers in the capital Minsk. However, he rejected an offer to meet president Lukashenko, who was willing to talk to him only in the strictest confidence. Mr. Zeman wanted Mikalay Statkevich, the chairman of the Belorussian Social Democratic party 'Narodna Hramada' who has been repeatedly persecuted by the regime, to be present at the meeting, but he was turned down. However, Mr. Zeman promised to continue supporting the Belorussian Social Democrats and to endorse a programme aimed at organizing democratic elections in Belarus in the near future.

I spoke with Jan Marian, coordinator for Belarus at the People in Need Foundation. He explained that Mr Zeman's mission was doomed to failure from the start:

"I'm afraid that the current regime in Belarus is not ready to start some real dialogue with the opposition, because our previous experience has shown that this regime is not able to respect international obligations and I'm afraid these missions have been always failing."

What do you think the Western democracies, including the Czech Republic can do to help?

"We should support the opposition, maybe there should be a dialogue on a lower level with the authorities, but it must be very limited, only with lower level authorities. But we must support local NGOs, we must inform our citizens about the situation in Belarus and we must also talk to Russia."

In what way can we support those organizations?

"They can be supported with some information, with Czech experience on some issues, we can provide them with our knowledge, we can organize seminars, that's what we do for them for example in People in Need."

What does the People in Need Foundation do, do you have any contacts in Belarus?

"Yes, we support, as I've mentioned, some local NGOs and other organizations, we organize seminars for them in Prague, we organize visits of Czech journalists to Belarus, visits by Belorussian politicians here and we try to support them in their development."