Belarus as a challenge to Europe
Usov Pavel ( Belarusian Centre For European Research)
Nowadays a lot is being said about what the EU could have done for Belarus after December 19, 2011 and what it didn’t do. In the first place I would like to go further than assessing the efficiency of political and economic sanctions and to discuss what Europe can do for Belarus from perspective of civilization development.
According to the civilization theory elaborated by a well-known British historian Arnold Toynbee any civilization develops and reaches a higher level of its development after overcoming external and internal challenges. Succeeding in tackling the problems, a civilization grows spiritually, and creates its own unique culture. This eternal movement becomes the law of life and development for an individual, society and a state. The absence of challenges means a state of stagnation for the society or civilization, for it decays and dies in luxury and hedonism or loses its internal energy to be eventually no more able to face new external or internal challenges. This was the fate of ancient Assyria, Persia, Rome.
On the other hand people or society can withdraw from resolving any problems, let things go, leave the problems to be tackled by others, but in this case this people and society will never reach historical summit, remaining at the backyard of history.
Thinking about the fate of Belarusian people, it’s possible to suggest that, on the one hand, current political regime can be treated as a civilizational challenge for us, the Belarusians. And our historical future heavily depends on whether we will face the challenge and tackle it. If Belarusian people subdue to the existing order, telling in a used to them way “may be it should be like that”, Belarus will not only miss the chance to become a historical nation, but will lose its statehood. We, Belarusian people, struggle with today’s regime, the today’s evil, in our own house, in our own country. Surely, many our citizens are under the influence of state propaganda, others sincerely believe that Lukashenka represents “Good” and his opponents represent “Evil”. Alas, it was and it will be like that forever. Jan Hus, stifling in the fire of inquisition, saw an old woman chunking up more brushwood on the bonfire, and exclaimed: «Sancta Simplicitas» (Holy Simplicity). Such people would believe that the Hell is the Heaven and even St. Peter will fail in persuading them in the opposite. But those who know where is White and where is Black, and take the side of White, remain wrong and naïve, when hope that someone else will solve our problems, and paint all world in white colour. The triumph of Evil in our country can’t be reduced to political regime only. The power and cruelty of Evil is in our weakness and disunity. The absence of unity among those who oppose the regime, the fact that even during hard times opposition is unable to produce a single action, to subdue its fears, offences, and ambitions, the absence of historical personalities among opposition forces makes the Evil almost unconquerable. We, Belarusians, let the dragon fly, and if we won’t stop it, it will simply devour us for our good. We, not the East and the West, are to create our history and our own leaders. And we should count on our own forces and our own people, even if democratic communities are still distanced from ordinary people, alien and strange for them. We should fight, suffer and die, even on the background of “sleeping people”, otherwise people will continue to live in illusion of having a good life, and then other generations would have to deal with the problem left unresolved by us. This is the only way to become historical nation.
On the other hand, Belarus with its internal problems makes an external challenge for Europe, a challenge to European values and ideals, which have been developed throughout all European history in sufferings and torments of millions of people. And it will be wrong to deny that Belarus has contributed to the formation of European values. Having gone through repressions and wars, Belarus, unfortunately, was found at Europe’s backyard. And now for some European politicians it would be easier to brush it off, forget, erase from memory everything, which is connected to Belarus, and tell that Belarus is someone’s sphere of interest.
All current European activities towards Belarusian regime, including visa sanctions and Civil Society support are middle-of-the-road and inefficient. It’s like languidly brushing away the annoying bug, which buzzing reminds about human rights, freedom of consciousness, people sitting in prisons; it’s like an effort to buy off from those, who wait and demand tougher actions from Europe.
As regards visa sanctions, it’s a pathetic and demonstrative measure, which would never frighten the regime and its supporters, as well as provision of financial support to Civil Society in Belarus. The amount of European finance to Belarusian opposition was not less before 2006 and after it, still it rather weakened opposition than empowered it. For soon grant applications ceased to be the source and became the purpose of political parties and organizations. It takes place now as well. It’s better to produce no action than to do something half-heartedly. The European Union has but to clearly state its position towards the question on, whether Belarus makes a part of Europe, not so much in a geographical sense, but as a political and cultural space. And it’s not serious to constantly refer to the formulae of political correctness and give general talks about the future. The position of the EU should be announced officially (and better so presented as a view of the whole European Community, and not as someone’s personal opinion) by Katherine Ashton, Manuel Barroso, Herman van Rompuy or Jerzy Buzek, and not just to be passed to someone somewhere in the European institutions’ couloirs or at the conferences devoted to the issues of Eastern Partnership.
Surely someone will say that Belarusians should decide themselves on whether Belarus is a European country or not, and will be right. I would add to it, that each Belarusian should first of all speak for himself, and not from the name of the whole Belarusian people, what is Belarus and decide whether it’s ready to make a political part of Europe. Today in our country there’s only one man, who on the part of all Belarusian people, having usurped this right, decides the future of our state, claiming that Belarus has nothing to do with Europe, but is between, or rather closer to Russia. I personally, as a citizen of Belarus, find it a European country, which should be in the EU. I don’t know whether it will be relevant to mention that according to opinion polls significant part of Belarusian people from 35% to 40 % think that Belarus should integrate into European Union, regardless the fact that state propaganda is constantly persuading Belarusian citizens in the opposite. And I’m more than sure that if there were other information and political conditions in the country, there would be much more proponents of European integration in Belarus.
Although the question of integration is meaningful it is not crucial. Who are we for Europe, for the EU? That is the relevant question! It should be posed to Belarusians and answered by them as well by Europeans. Still as regards Europeans their answer will imply definite political attitude, which will be far going for Belarus. For instance, if Belarus is not looked at as an integral part of Europe by European Community, there is no any sense in discussing the policy, which Europe should exercise towards Belarusian regime. All the policy will result in formal accusations, empty sanctions and promises, which will burn in the flame of African revolutions or will face with time the oblivion. All European politics of XX and the beginning of XXI centuries has been boiled down to the expectations and hopes that “luck will come all of a sudden” and the situation will be automatically resolved, all that to «let a sleeping bear lie». The consequences of such a policy were sad for Europe itself as well as for the entire world. I suppose the same strategy is used towards the regime of Lukashenka. It comprises the hope that Lukashenka will play a good boy and will become a democrat or rather the expectation that Belarus will eventually integrate into Russia and consequently will relieve Europe from any responsibility for the region, why, “the will of Belarusian people should be respected”.
But if the European Union finds enough strength and courage to declare Belarus an integral part of Europe, the situation in Belarus will cease to be exclusively domestic problem, and will be treated as a common European challenge. And after that the policy towards Belarus, Belarusian people and Belarusian regime will become clear and robust for Europe itself. From a different perspective we look at the idea of European integration. In political circumstances of today political integration of the Belarusian state is impossible without consent of the regime. But Europe doesn’t need green lights from Lukashenka to start European integration at the level of society, making it now a part of European Community. Why, after recognizing Belarus as a part of Europe, not to make its people the citizens of the EU. This idea will be treated with huge skepticism and will be criticized, or will be referred to as stupid and even insane. Indeed, such were the ideas of conquering the Space, flying to the Moon and creating the EU. So does it mean then that the step towards construction of European civilization, of which Belarusians are the part, is more insane than conquering the Space? We need but political will to make it real.
Why the idea of European integration in relation to Belarus is restricted by the question: “What Europe can bring to Belarus? When it’s more important to understand, “what Belarus and Belarusian people can give to Europe?”
Belarusian people might make Europe think by different categories, other than gas and oil related ones, and make it live exclusively by guide of such values and notions as human rights and freedom of mind, which continue to be struggled for nowadays. Belarus might prove an idea that there’s a place for heroism in XXI century as well. It might become this very challenge, which would bring Europe to new level of civilization development, unless being ignored.
But this possibility, as well as the other ones, which appear in our history, needs to be profoundly considered by each of us.