Belarus remains under President Alexander Lukashenko’s rule six months after controversial elections, because public protests against the results persist.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to bring the issue back into the spotlight this week on his video podcast, outlines “his government’s plan of action [for the] Belarusian civil society. “
Merkel said she came to admire the “unwavering” nature of opposition protesters in the face of sometimes violent government oppression. Providing protection for politicians or activists fleeing the country will be a core component of Germany’s action plan, he said.
“With that, the persecuted opposition and people who need humanity will more easily receive visas and asylum with us,” said Merkel. “We want to help victims of torture who are traumatized, but also provide scholarships or grants and to support independent media.”
The scope of activities is not clear
Speaking to DW about the extent of the plan, a junior minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin, Michael Berger, said it was too early to discuss how many people from Belarus might hope to take refuge in Germany.
“We have just agreed within the federal government to initiate such a program. And of course we will pay special attention to people affected by acute distress, who no longer see their own future in Belarus because of state repression. initially, it’s going to be the focus, “said Berger.
The chancellor also touched on the front lines of the Belarusian opposition in his comments, mentioning both his recent meeting with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Berlin and the fact that fellow activist Maria Kolesnikova was “locked up in prison like so many others” and unable to leave the country.
Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited Berlin in October, also having an audience with Chancellor Merkel away from the camera
Berger points to wider opportunities to show support for civil society, for example by highlighting the difficulties at hand prominent athlete from Belarus who spoke out against the government in Minsk. He said there were similar stories of oppression in art and theater, between actors and actors journalist.
A little extra beyond EU sanctions
Although progress was quite slow at first, with the first real response emerging from Brussels on only 1 October, The European Union has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Belarus and officials in Minsk since the August elections last year.
It targets a total of 88 individuals and seven entities in the country, including Lukashenko and his sons, with restrictions including travel bans within the EU and asset freezes where possible. EU citizens and companies are also prohibited from providing funds to registered persons and entities.
Merkel admitted in her video podcast that the extra German effort in addition to EU action “will not resolve the conflict between justice and oppression in Belarus,” saying that “this is simply not possible from the outside.”
But he hopes it will “show the brave people over there that we are by their side and hearing their voices – today, just like six months ago.”
Looking for ‘legal consequences’ someday
In their last meeting with the opposition Minsk “Coordinating Council”, German government representatives also agreed to help document and record the regime’s repression of peaceful protesters.
Berger of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin said that the effort to trace crimes committed in Belarus was designed to “give the necessary teeth” to the three existing rounds of EU sanctions – “to show those responsible for the crackdown who were responsible responsible for these violations, in human rights law, that they can be held accountable. “
He stressed that this idea did not belong to Germany; instead, it was done in conjunction with a “series” of NGOs and European partner countries.
“We want to document – and in a way that will stand up in court – which crimes and violations of liberty have been committed. And in principle there are two possibilities how to achieve that,” said Berger. “It can be done through the United Nations, through the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. And another possibility that we are also looking at is that we are assigning various NGOs to do this task so that this evidence is gathered.”
Tsikhanouskaya’s time in Berlin was steeped in symbolism, including ecumenical prayer sessions, trips to art exhibitions on Belarusian politics, and visits to the Berlin Wall site.
The minister said it was too early to think of some kind of international tribunal dedicated to crimes committed in Belarus, saying that the “first step” remains to collect evidence in such a way that it can later be used in several forums.
“We have seen repression by the police. Meanwhile, thirty thousand people have been arrested. There are more than 200 political prisoners and there is still not a single legal case against a member of the security forces, “said Berger.
For now, six months after the last dubious re-election of Minsk’s “last European dictator”, seeking justice for Alexander Lukashenko’s allies or even victims still seems a somewhat distant goal.