Valérie Gauriat: Since 2016 relations between Belarus and the EU has evolved with the partial lift of sanctions. Yet the European council decide to prolong some of the sanctions until 2019. What is your government’s position on this and what further steps can be taken?
Vladimir Makei: “I think that within the last two years we have achieved very much. We have progressed much more in our relations with this within the last two years than in the previous 20 years of restrictions, of mistrust, of so-called megaphone diplomacy. We created the so-called EU-Belarus coordination group which is a good platform to discuss any issues which are important for our cooperation. We have started new programmes of cooperation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the European Investment Bank. The EU doubled its assistance to Belarus for different programs, so there are a lot of positive things, but at the same time, of course, we understand that there are a lot of, some sensitive issues, sensitive for the EU and we should work on these issues.
Regarding the sanctions, we move forward, slowly but permanently. The majority of sanctions as you mentioned were abolished in 2016, there are some sanctions still remaining on our agenda. First of all, these sanctions, we have sanctions regarding the arms embargo. These are about arms and other items but not exports in general and this is important because we would like to have normal relations with the EU, trade and economic relations, and we are interested in the economic partnership with the EU. Why, because it helps us strengthen our economy, and it helps us to maintain and strengthen our political independence and sovereignty, that’s why we are extremely interested in normal trade and economic cooperation with the EU, and I think we are slowly moving to the full abolishment of sanctions, I hope it will happen in the nearest future.
Valérie Gauriat: Regarding human rights, freedoms, the rule of law, human rights, labor rights…Can you give me concrete measures Belarus is willing to take?
Vladimir Makei: “All these issues which you have mentioned is on our agenda, on the agenda of our agenda with the Eu and also the US. As I said, today we live in a totally different situation than it was two years ago, we started the human rights dialogue, we restarted the human rights dialogue with the EU and the US. We have elaborated and we adopted the first ever in our history national action plan on human rights in Belarus. This plan was elaborated in cooperation with NGOs, we started the dialogue with the civil society and I think this is extremely important. We cooperate very closely on the implementation of this national action plan on human rights with NGOs. We meet regularly, we discuss with them the levels of the implementation of this plan and we discuss with them the steps we should make in the future. By the way, we work closely also with the different international organizations here, with the EU ambassadors, so many things, we have achieved many things but of course, much should be done in the future, we understand that.
We cannot got to bed in the Soviet Union and wake up in a totally European democratic state
If there are some problems regarding the death penalty or some other issues, I think our partners should take into consideration the concrete circumstances, concrete conditions, the concrete situation here. We cannot achieve everything at once. I said once that we cannot get to bed in the Soviet Union and wake up in the totally European democratic state. It does not mean that we don’t want to learn. We would like to learn. We would like to learn and we would like to have a European school book. We are ready to learn this schoolbook. But we lived for a long time in the old Soviet Union, in the Soviet era, and this mentality still influences many people here. Because we were said in the Soviet Union that not the individual rights play the main role in society. The collective rights, social rights are more important for us, the right for education, the right for education, the right for housing etc. and our people used to live in the conditions when the State takes care of them, so they always knew that they can rely on the State, and this mentality still influences the situation here.
And by the way we have negative examples in some neighboring states, that’s why the authorities of Belarus would like to move fwd very cautiously, in order to maintain the stability in the society. And I think that human rights and this is not only my opinion, but we can achieve real human rights only in the society which develops from the economical point of view, which develops economically, politically, socially etc.
And I think that some of the European parliament’s resolutions confirm that as well, they say that we can ensure human rights only in a stable society, stable economic conditions etc. So we pay great attention to this stability because we don’t want to have any conflicts here. By the way, Belarus is the only post-Soviet country which did not have any military conflicts in the nearest history, not to compare with the rest of the post-Soviet countries.
So stability first, but of course it does not mean that we would like to freeze the situation here. We are ready to learn, we are ready to cooperate with our European partners also on sensitive issues but we would like to move forward let’s say very cautiously, in order to ensure the permanent and stable development of the society, of the state, which will help us to achieve this final goal, to become the member of the family of European democracies.”
We live today between two big fires
“We are not a big geopolitical actor, Belarus is a medium-sized country. We do not have geopolitical ambitions, we cannot have such geopolitical ambitions because we are not strong from the political point of view, from the economical point of view, we have some economic potential etc. but we understand that we cannot play any geopolitical role. We live today unfortunately in between two big geopolitical actors, on one side Russia and the other side EU, and I would like to say that we live today in between two big fires, because they live under the conditions of some kind of hostility and we suffer from that. Because our economy is export-oriented we depend on the situation on foreign markets and we would like to have normal trade relations with the east, with the west, with the south, and with the north. Today we suffer from this situation when Russian and the EU have counter sanctions etc.
We do not accept the question, who are you with today, are you with Russia, or are you with the EU, we would like to live in good relations with Russia, and at the same time in good relations with the EU, this is our destiny here, and because we understand that the destiny of the State depends on the good relations with Russia and with the EU.”
Valérie Gauriat: The situation in Crimea was condemned by Mr. Lukashenko. Is a Ukrainian scenario to be feared in Belarus?
Vladimir Makei: I don’t think so. The Ukrainian authorities have made many mistakes in the past and in the end, we have this situation in Ukraine. We are not afraid about the Ukrainian scenario here in Belarus because we are a little bit different from Ukrainian people and we will never allow the situation which happened in Ukraine.
Valérie Gauriat: Meaning? How can you never allow the situation, what do you mean by that?
Vladimir Makei: Because we have good relations with Russia. If there are any problems, we discuss openly these problems with them, and we try to get political solutions to these problems, not military solutions. And I do not think it is important…that Russia would like to organize something here like the Ukrainian scenario in Belarus. I don’t think they would like to do that because it’s not in their interest. For me, it’s an absurdity to discuss these hypothetical things.