Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Belarus: The Deeper Context

One slightly overlooked aspect of Saturday's savage repression by Belarusian authorities of the pro-democracy protests in Minsk was the treatment accorded to Poland's ex-Belarus ambassador Mariusz Maszkiewicz, who was among the 200-300 protestors arrested before dawn - they had already been on the square for four days. AP reports that Mr Maszkiewicz has been sentenced by a Belarusian court to 15 days' imprisonment:
"I was there. I am proud I was there," Maszkiewicz said after he was sentenced on charges of taking part in an unsanctioned gathering.

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The Polish Foreign Ministry said it would inform the European Union about Maszkiewicz's jailing and press for sanctions over "such a drastic breach of human rights." "The issue has a deeper context because Maszkiewicz was beaten," ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski told the PAP news agency.

On Sunday, the Polish consul in Grodno, Janusz Dabrowski, was detained at the border because he refused to open the trunk of his vehicle for border guards, the Polish Embassy said. Poland said it was suspending operations in Grodno because Belarus was "hindering Polish diplomats in Grodno from carrying out their consular functions."
Not only is the issue is likely to open up further rifts between Belarus and the European Union (the rifts are by now, in any case, almost total) - it is also going to be seen in the context of the muggings and beatings of Polish diplomats in Moscow in August last year, events which signalled a sharp deterioration between the EU and Russia's government. With Putin publicly congratulating Lukashenko on his "victory" in last weekend's election, the Russia-Belarus axis starts to look more and more like an open challenge to Europe.

Now, however, there are reports that Lukashenko has disappeared without trace - he has not been seen since March 20, and has not responded to any of the congratulatory messages he received, nor to the fairly robust criticisms of the US and EU. He is said by Belarusian administration officials to be "working on documents", and to be "in good health".

Lukashenko's presidential inauguation ceremony has been postponed from March 31 until mid-April. No reason has been given for the postponement.

Update: According to Reuters, Lukashenko did make a brief public appearance at a government meeting today.
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