Virginijus Sinkevičius | The Lithuania Tribune
Parliamentary elections were held on 23 September in Belarus, Lithuania’s closest neighbour. Results of elections in Belarus, due to that country’s proximity and its political volatility, are seen as a concern of the highest priority in Lithuania. Unfortunately, the election outcome lived up to President Lukashenka’s predictions, in that no seats were taken by opposition parties.
Lithuanian politicians seemed to reverse course in their reaction to the election outcome. Although Lithuania is seen as a political “bridge,” and the primary exporter of the European values of democracy, liberty, the rule of law and respect for human rights, Lithuanian politicians reacted with an apparent lack of concern, appearing to vaguely dismiss the Belarus election as yet another failure of democracy in Minsk.
There are a variety of reasons for such apathy toward Belarus:
1) On October 14th, Lithuania will hold its own Parliamentary elections; therefore, Lithuanian politicians are focusing their attention and energy locally.
2) As the European Union has stated clearly that liberation or democratization of Belarus is impossible without a mandate from the citizens of Belarus, the election result means that for now, the EU has given up and will await positive signs of change from Minsk.
3) It is openly known that members of Parliament in Belarus have no more rights or power than its citizens. It is acknowledged that, for the situation in Belarus to improve, it can happen only with a change at the level of the President.
4) Tensions between Vilnius and Minsk are still high after the incident where the Swedish “Democratic Teddy Bears” landed on Belarus soil.
News agency BNS talked with Lithuanian politicians, who were sceptical about the election results in Belarus and did not have much to comment.
Lithuanian Prime Minister A. Kubilius released a short statement about Belarus, stating “There is nothing to evaluate in Belarus. Nothing new was noticed.”
The official statement of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed with the assessment of international organizations that the freedom and rights of citizens to choose and select fairly were not secured during the elections in Belarus. In addition, the Foreign Ministry mentioned the fact that some observers, like E. Zingeris, a member of the Lithuanian Parliament, were not allowed to enter the country.
Seimas foreign affairs committee member, liberal Petras Auštrevičius, had a similar opinion to what the Lithuanian Prime Minister expressed earlier. He said, “Unfortunately, it looks like these elections are no different from the previous elections in Belarus. Elections are only a continuation of the same system, already established in Belarus, in which president A. Lukashenka expands his term of domination.”
P. Auštrevičius added that the European Union‘s evaluation will show that no changes took place in Belarus, and the EU will not change its position towards Belarus. Furthemore, P. Auštrevičius was sceptical about exporting democracy into Belarus. The Member of Parliament admited that only the will to change from the Belarusian side can trigger real changes.
The opinion of E. Vareikis, a Member of the Lithuanian Parliament was no different than that of his colleagues. He said, “The elections in Belarus clearly showed that nothing new happened, despite what was possibly expected by some politicians. Some people were looking forward to these elections, with the hope that A. Lukashenka will become a new Gorbachov. Nevertheless, nothing happened.”
He further expressed that, after these clearly unfair and fraudulent elections, relations between the European Union and Belarus will sharply decline. “Relations will decline, because the EU will stay with their position and will state that these elections are fraudulent and cannot fit into the frame of democracy.”
He also criticized those who still harbour hopes of holding a dialogue with Likashenka. “Those who are still looking for productive negotiations should first look carefully with whom they are going to speak. One day he wants to transport the cargos through Klaipeda port, the next day he has already forgotten his promises.”
E. Vareikis concluded his comment about Belarus by stating that the main goal for Lithuania is a free Belarus and a free market economy within the country. This would be profitable for both the Lithuania and Belarus. Nevertheless, E. Vareikis also noted that if Belarus citizens are not willing to change, it is pointless to initiate any negotiations.
“Belarus citizens are crammed into a corner, and they are armless against the regime. A good sign is that confidence in the regime is swiftly decreasing, and right now we are in a holding pattern. Because Lukashenka is trying to reshape his regime, there might be another outcome – that Lukashenka may lose his power and reforms will be started without him knowing about the changes.”
It appears that all the politicians who commented to BNS news agency were right: Nothing happened in Belarus, but it is significant to note that Lithuania should retain its strong position as the bridge of democracy between the EU and Belarus, clearly condemning the regime of A. Lukashenka as unacceptable, and continuing to support the democratization process in Belarus. As parliament member E. Vareikis noted, poor relations with the ‘unpredictable dictator’, but a stable and free Belarus within the free market economy will be beneficial for the economy of Lithuania as well. Finally, “Changes will come to Belarus”, but only with the united will of the citizens and the elite of Belarus, who can rely on support from Lithuania and the EU when it is needed.