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 Political science

2013-12-29

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Belarus: a second-tier partner of the EU?

by Kiryl Kascian and Hanna Vasilevich

With regard to the region Belarus belongs to, the last months of  2013 were dominated by the third Eastern Partnership summit that took place on November 28-29 in Vilnius. This event was thought to become a determining to confirm “progress in political association and economic integration with Eastern Partnership countries by finalizing association agreements including the establishment of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area”. Indeed, it was initially expected that the highlight of the summit would be signing of the association agreement with Ukraine. In case of  Armenia, Georgia and Moldova it was expected that these countries would initiate such agreements. So, the planned or actual existence of the association agreements were seen as a sort of pale that marks progress in the EU relations with the countries of the Eastern Partnership initiative. Accordingly, Belarus and Azerbaijan were located beyond this pale.

In sport terms such a division resembles a two-tier league where the “champions” who were about to initiate or sign the association agreement are delegated to the higher tier, while those lacking it – to the second tier. According to this, interest in these countries during the Vilnius summit was measured. In other words, during the event in Vilnius all these countries were expected to have a sort of ranking which determined public interest in them – the highest attention was pointed to Ukraine, then to Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, and then to Azerbaijan and Belarus. Thus, should the most “pro-European” statement with regard to the development of their relations and readiness for further tangible progress in negotiations with the European Union come from Azerbaijan or Belarus, it would hardly exceed  public attention to the “top tier”.

Beyond any doubt the European Union was interesting in engaging four countries of the “first tier” by means of the initiating and signing the association agreements respectively. Such a scenario would confirm the effectiveness of the current format of the Eastern Partnership, particularly with regard to the establishment of a free trade area with these countries. However, the real development of the situation proved to be different from that expected by the European Union.

The results of the summit were much less promising for the EU than declared. Armenia refused to initiate an association agreement which put the previously conducted negotiations off the agenda and in sport terms “relegated” this country to the second tier of Eastern Partnership. The decision of Ukrainian authorities to postpone the signing of the association agreement with the EU could currently be seen as the bitterest failure of the Eastern Partnership. This decision and its outcomes produced many effects that since its announcement have dominated the news from Eastern Europe. Thus, the initiation of the association agreements with Georgia and Moldova can be seen only to a very limited degree as a success of the EU foreign policy.

Against this political background the announcement of the Belarusian foreign minister Uladzimir Makei on Belarus’ readiness to start negotiations on simplifying the visa regime with the European Union did not attract much public attention.

One can interpret the essence of this statement from different perspectives. On one hand, it embodies the “pragmatic approach” of  Belarusian authorities declared already by Makei’s predecessor Siarhei Martynau. Additionally, regardless of political reasons behind this move by Belarusian authorities, they can be seen as a positive development since its apparent practical outcome could serve an example when formula ‘at least something is better than nothing’ has positive meaning.

On the other hand, the relegation  of Belarus to the Eastern Partnership’s “second tier” predetermined the outcomes of this statement. For the EU there existed much more urgent things related to the failure with the Union’s engaging with Ukraine. In other words, Ukrainian issue started dominating the entire discourse on the Eastern Partnership immediately after the decision of the Ukrainian authorities was announced. Neither initiation of the association agreements with Georgia and Moldova, nor Armenia’s refuse to do so, nor the declaration of the Belarusian authorities to start visa liberalization negotiations have had even a chance to dismiss the primacy of the Ukrainian issue both on the political agenda and in the news. The Ukrainian issue was portrayed within the context of the Russian factor and involvement in the Eastern Partnership. There is no need to repeat numerous interpretations of the situation around the Ukraine’s decision to postpone signing the association agreement. It is however necessary to draw attention to the Belarusian context.

First,  Belarus’ currently belonging  to the EaP “second-tier” would likely keep the current status quo in the country’s relations with the EU. It means that in the current situation Belarus would merely remain out of EAP’s top priorities, while the EaP itself would most likely remain out of the EU foreign policy priorities for at least two consequent Presidencies of the Council of the European Union (Greek and Italian).

Second, as the Ukrainian situation showed, the Belarus-EU relations will remain in the “shadow” of Russian factor. The Belarusian situation however significantly differs from the Ukrainian one due to Belarus’ membership in the Russian-centered Customs Union. Put into the “Ukrainian” framework, it means that Belarus’ rapprochement with the EU will be closely observed by Russia without any obstacle until it does not interfere into the Russian geopolitical interests and until it fits Russia’s own agenda on rapprochement with the EU. However, if it ever comes to the establishment of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between Belarus and the EU, Moscow would immediately intervene to put the framework of such agreement in compliance with the realities of the Customs Union.

Hence, on one hand Belarus has never been a member of the EaP “top tier”, as the EU conditionality was merely inconsistent with the “pragmatic approach” declared by the Belarusian authorities. On the other hand, the EU itself was not able to present a clearly formulated agenda that could engage official Minsk into closer rapprochement and eventually contribute to the political liberalization of the country. Finally, as the Ukrainian situation has proven, the EU is ineffective in counterbalancing growing geopolitical appetites of Putin’s Russia in the EU Eastern Partnership area.

This article appeared in Belarusian Review, Vol. 25, No. 4.
© 2013 The_Point Journal/Belarusian Review

Keywords: Belarus-EU relations, EU Eastern Partnership initiative, European Neighbourhood Policy, foreign relations of Belarus, Euromaidan, post-Soviet alliances
 

 

 

 

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2012-10-26

Misha's Dream: Do Georgian Elections Really Change It All?

The newly elected Georgian parliament convened for its first session on 21 October. Thus, the majority in the parliament that was won by the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, has been legitimised into power. A transition period is now beginning, and it will last until 2013, when constitutional amendments that cede most of the presidential powers to the prime minister will enter into force. At that time, incumbent president Mikheil Saakashvili will step down, having served two terms in office. This transition promises to be complicated.

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2012-09-26

Belarus: Beginnings of Renaissance

Prior to being nominated by President George H. W. Bush in early 1992 as the first U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Belarus, I had several times been in what by then was the former Soviet Union. My first exposure to the so-called Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic occurred in June, 1972, when my family and I drove to Moscow from our previous assignment in Germany. We passed through the breadth of Belarus from Brest in the west to Orsha in the east.  At that time the Brest-Minsk-Orsha-Moscow highway was one of the few roads from western Europe open to travel by foreigners.

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2012-09-10

Armenia–Azerbaijan conflict: Autumn Aggravation

The unexpected August continuation of six years old events caused a genuine cyber war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Let us look at everything in proper sequence.

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2012-08-30

Poles in Belarus: the story of an unnecessary conflict

The 4th Congress of Polish Diaspora held in Pultusk on August 24-26, 2012, adopted a resolution expressing its “strong protest against violation of human rights and discrimination of the Union of Poles in Belarus”. This statement implies that the rights of Belarusian Poles are being violated which results in discrimination of this group on ground of ethnicity. But is this statement mature enough to produce such apparently far-reaching conclusions?

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2012-08-26

Uladzimir Baradač: In Belarus there Exists Enormous Potential for Protest

The recent events in Belarus and its surrounding area result in many varied, often contradictory assessments.  In his interview with Belarusian Review, Uladzimir Baradač, chairman of the organizational committee of the ”Council for National Revival”, describes his view on the current situation in Belarus and further development of events in the country.

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2012-08-20

Lukashenka needs a soldier not a diplomat

Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s decision to appoint Uladzimir Makei Minister of Foreign Affairs marks a change in Minsk’s general foreign policy strategy in the international arena, particularly regarding the West. Despite Makei’s diplomatic education and experience, he is first and foremost an administrator and a reliable executor of Lukashenka’s orders, a personality that triggered expansion of administrative and political control in Belarus. There is nothing special about it; otherwise he could not have survived in the “political Olympus” of Belarus.

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2012-08-03

Belarus - Georgia: Unexpected Allies

Belarus and Georgia are scarcely ever placed into one basket for analysis. It is rather Belarus' neighbour Ukraine that has been consistently paired up with Georgia in post-Soviet space politics. First wave of colour revolutions that hit the region and swimmingly overthrown corrupt regimes; knife-edge relations with Russia; to name just a few domains where Kiev and Tbilisi were for the most times referred to cheek by jowl. To be sure, Belarus is no stranger when it comes to hurdle in relations with Russia, however, this is not the only resemblance in Belarus-Georgia nexus which steadily develops.

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2012-05-09

Stefan Liebich: Opening Gates for Belarusians from the German Side Would Help Enormously

The Belarus-EU relations reached their lowest point ever by the end of February 2012, when the EU countries  have recalled their ambassadors from Minsk. The very development of this situation made it clear that the previous EU strategy towards Belarus has failed and requires serious reframing. The fact is that the EU has to deal with an authoritarian regime led by Lukašenka who despite considerable economic hardships in the country still enjoys a high degree of popularity among Belarus’ citizens. Expanding the black lists of Belarus’ officials and tycoons banned from entering the EU, targeted economic sanctions and future perspectives of the Belarus-EU dialogue elicited different opinions both within the Belarusian society and among foreign politicians and analysts. Belarusian Review asked Stefan Liebich who represents  the  Left Party (Die Linke) in the German Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs to provide his view on the current developments of Belarus-EU relations and Germany’s role in it.

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2012-04-25

Church and Politics in Belarus

One of more widespread statements by representatives of both the Orthodox as well as the Catholic churches is the following: "church is beyond politics and is not engaged in politics.” Of course, this attitude is by far not always realized in practice.  Yet, even if the Church always and everywhere follows this given principle, it does not at all mean that the ruling elite will stop using the Church for political objectives; especially, if the Church happens to exist in conditions of an authoritarian regime, where any social institution may function only when it submits, or in the best case scenario, does not oppose the interests of the ruling power.   Essentially, even the Church’s silence concerning politically significant issues or events is politics. If there are political prisoners in a country,  human rights are violated, and the Church is protected by its silence —  that means that it, despite its own statements on non-intervention in politics, remains lenient toward these violations and is already involved in politics.

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2012-03-18

Belarus in the Post-Soviet Collective Security System

The sudden demise of the Soviet Union presented a problem in terms of security provision for the the newly independent states. For decades, a closely integrated system of security had been constructed in the Union especially influenced by the developments of the Cold War and mostly targeted against the West. However, with the end of the confrontation in 1989 and the subsequent implosion of the Union in 1991 some important aspects of  security have changed. Thus, states like Belarus and the Central Asian states not to mention those in the Caucasus, where by the early 1990s violent conflicts were underway, found themselves dealing with the difficult task of providing for their own security without proper political and military structures in place.

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2012-03-04

Alaksandr Łahviniec: the Kremlin needs a manageable and predictable client in Belarus

The results of the presidential elections in Russia were more than predictable. Vladimir Putin’s return to the president office after four years was rather a sort of bureaucratic formality. From now on, the most influential Russian politician during Dmitry Medvedev’s office term becomes the old-new president of Russia.

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2012-02-29

Pavel Usov: if the EAU is established, Belarus for at least a few more years will be deprived of any opportunity to become a democratic European state

Russia’s presidential elections in any case affect Belarusian state and society. Close economic and political ties between two countries resemble a sort of misalliance. Recently we can observe the growing Russia’s influence in Belarus both politically (considering strained relations of Belarus with the West) and economically (ever increasing and direct expansion of the Russian business in Belarus). Even though the results of the Russian elections are quite predictable, within the contexts of the Vladimir Putin’s electoral rhetoric one can say that the Kremlin will adopt the course on further facilitation of the integration on the post-Soviet area. Implementation of such policies directly concerns Belarus and its interests.

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2012-01-24

Eastern Partnership deadlock: is there a solution?

The second EaP summit was to take place in a situation in which, on one hand the EaP had never become a priority for the EU politics, and on the other hand, we could still hardly speak about a common EU Foreign policy. The EaP was fostered by those countries whose geopolitical interests lay with the EaP area whereas the EU countries with different strategic priorities were not willing to equally contribute to the EaP development.

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2012-01-10

Czech-Belarusian relations: last 20 years

20 years after the Velvet Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union have been characterized by significant changes in the regions of Central and Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic separated from Slovakia, changing from the former Soviet ally Czechoslovakia into an independent country with its own interests. In 2004 it became a member of the European Union. As for Belarus, though it was one of the USSR’s most developed republics, in the beginning of its independence it underwent economic shock therapy, which negatively affected most of the country’s population. Thus, the beginning of the 1990s in Belarus was characterised by the transformation to democracy under harsh economic challenges. Along with these difficulties Belarus had to maintain its relations with the world.

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2011-12-13

The Image of Belarus and the Belarusian People in Presidential Speeches

In Belarus, the beginning of the 2000s was a period in which the need to define national identity and to understand who we, the Belarusian people are, was acknowledged. The rather late date during which these issues were addressed can be explained by the fact that the period from 1994 was completely occupied with solving economic problems and developing, and even establishing, an independent (in its institutional sense) state.

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2011-12-02

No Money – No Dictator? Experts predict the “last battle” of “the last dictator in Europe”

This slogan wasn’t mentioned at the presentation of results for the “Democratic Change in Belarus: A Framework for Action” project, but it is the leading idea articulated by think tank experts in the recent publication. Damon Wilson (Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council), Anders Aslund (Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute), Peter Doran (Center for European Policy Analysis), David J. Kramer (Executive Director of Freedom House) and other experts formed a working group united by the thought that at the moment Lukashenka is as weak as he has ever been. They believe that the Western world can`t miss the chance to help him be gone away from the stage.

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2011-09-30

Zachar Šybieka: The Present Neglected State of the Belarusian Language — a Strong Danger Signal for the Belarusian Nation

Recently the issue of national identity has been increasingly discussed in the Belarusian society, while Belarus’ authorities speak a lot about the the need to increase the number of foreign tourists in Belarus.  These two issues are interconnected, because precisely what is being shown to foreigners from our country’s historical legacy, and how it is  being shown,  forms their perception of Belarus. What should the  role of  language be for Belarusians’  self-identification and  for the external presentation of  Belarus, and how generally  should  Belarus be  introduced to foreign tourists? Professor Zachar Šybieka, a well-known historian and expert urbanist expresses his ideas in this interview.

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2011-09-24

David Marples: I believe there is significant support within the EU for regarding Belarus as part of the Russian “sphere of interest.”

Belarusian studies in the West have always remained in the shadow of Russian, Polish or Ukrainian studies. That is why the number of Belarus-related books and articles lags far behind those on the neighbouring countries. Non-surprisingly, many western scholars and analysts have somewhat stereotypical view on Belarus’ past and often consider the present Belarusian state as being within the Russian sphere of interest. We asked a prominent Canadian historian David R. Marples, the author of Belarus: a Denationalized Nation, to make a historical overview and analyse the contemporary situation with the Belarusian studies in the North America as well as to express his opinion on the role that Belarusian language should play in the Belarus-related studies.

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2011-09-10

Anatol Taras: I am a Belarusian and Feel It with My Heart

The biography of Anatol Taras, the well-known Belarusian writer and publisher of many books dealing with Belarusians’ historical roots and their  current national consciousness is  many-sided. However, he has arrived at his present occupation gradually. What caused Anatol Taras to start spreading historical knowledge about Belarus and why books published by him appear mostly in Russian?

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2011-05-06

Belarus-Kazakhstan Cooperation Perspectives

Both Kazakhstan and Belarus recently went through the period of presidential elections. In both countries, the incumbent presidents Lukashenka and Nazarbayev predictably won the elections with high turnovers and voting results according to official statistics; in both countries opposition and international observers expressed concerns about election results and documented numerous violations. The two countries preserve rather good relations between each other, both on bilateral level and within the international organizations, such as Collective Security Treaty Organization and Customs Union.

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2011-03-20

Does Poland really know Belarus?

Jarosław Kaczyński’s critique of current Polish policy toward Belarus reveals how outmoded thinking is damaging Belarusian civil society.

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2009-01-15

Diplomacy of the Cold War Era: the Fate of One Man

Josef Orel is a man with the heavy fate who had an occasion to be a Czechoslovak diplomat in Africa during the Cold War times. In fact, he was one of the pioneers who established relations between Central European and African countries. Unfortunately, the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia at those times did not give him a possibility to throw himself into the maintenance of the relations between two continents. He as well as his family became victims of the system which brutally oppressed them and their children. However, despite all the ordeals, Josef Orel is full of vitality and self-reliance. In spite of his age of 74, he continuous to work as translator and feels constant support from his wife which who is standing right beside him for more than 50 years.

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2007-02-01

Georgian nationalism and prejudices

Ethnocentrism is quite obvious among Georgians. Moreover, Georgian ethnocentrism has a rather individual, although not a very unique form. A Georgian may calmly accept the fact that other nations are richer, more hardworking and even smarter. However, a Georgian will always think that all these successful nations lack something very important, the so-called ‘zest’ or the essential understanding of life.

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2015-01-20 18:10:50

Крывія, №34-35, сьнежань 2014

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Maps  

 

News

 

2016-04-25 | Chernobyl: A Personal Memoir

2015-12-10 | Chernobyl and Belarus

2015-11-19 | Robert Mickiewicz: Polish-Lithuanian dispute is useful for Russia

2015-11-04 | BR Working Paper #5 released in cooperation with the CBS

Events

 

2015-12-06 | Predictable election in the shadow of the Nobel Prize

2015-05-15 | Censorship as a research subject and as a means of understanding postwar Soviet Belarus

2015-02-02 | Aleś Kraŭcevič: we should be friends with Russia through the border fence

2015-01-11 | Jewish Soldiers in World War II

Law

 

2015-03-02 | Alexander Osipov: Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine still benefit from the Soviet system of diversity governance

2013-06-11 | Alena Makoŭskaja: Belarusians living abroad are strongest advocates of Belarus and its culture

2013-05-31 | Belarusian language banned in the Kontinental Hockey League

2013-05-26 | The 1995 Referendum on national symbols and official languages was not legitimate

Economy

 

2015-11-30 | Belarus’ Economic Slump

2014-09-21 | Georgian Agriculture: Effects of Association with the EU

2014-06-05 | Belarus: impact of the conflict in Ukraine

2013-08-24 | David Marples: Belarus needs to distinguish itself from Russia and Russian policies

Political science

 

2015-10-02 | Eastern Partnership initiative: five year results and future perspectives

2015-05-25 | Prolonging the Victory

2015-03-19 | Sergey Dolgopolov: Belarus and the EU close on in the economic sphere

2015-01-19 | Ivonka Survilla: mythologized history is the basis for Putin’s neo-Soviet rhetoric

Other domains

 

2015-11-23 | Searching for Belarusianness in the southern Pskov region

2015-11-12 | The Space: Between Silesia and Podlasie

2015-09-14 | The Cookbook as Political Statement: A Note on Two Belarusian Examples

2015-06-06 | Again about Skaryna in Padua: Attendees

 
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