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Category: Issue 6 2018

Past as weakness or strength? The shared history, strained present and uncertain future of Belarus and Lithuania

How can barriers between two historically close countries like Belarus and Lithuania be lowered or eliminated? What are the prospects of improved relations between the two states? Ultimately, closer ties between ordinary Belarusians and Lithuanians could serve as the best guarantor of closer political relations.

During his September 2018 visit to Vilnius, Pope Francis quoted Lithuania’s national anthem and encouraged people to “draw strength from the past”. He reiterated what is often common knowledge: for one to look to the future, one must first know and make peace with the past. In theory the same logic could apply to Lithuania and Belarus, two neighbours that, over the centuries, have spent more time together – that is, belonging to (or being ruled by) the same state – than apart.

November 5, 2018 - Dovilė Šukytė

Behind the thaw

For over two decades Polish-Belarusian relations have been connected to Belarus’s relations with the West. There have been oscillations between years of warming relations and colder periods. Since Russia annexed Crimea and the Russian threat in Eastern Europe has become widely recognised, many European countries have re-evaluated their policies towards Belarus, which although authoritarian is not aggressive. Poland is one such country.

The foundations for a new opening towards Belarus were laid before Poland’s 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections. It was in April 2014, during the first weeks of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka asked the Polish government to join in a mediation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Poland’s prime minister at the time, Donald Tusk, turned down the offer for fear that the Kremlin was behind the initiative. Based on information that I have gathered from sources, this proposal called for placing Belarusian peacekeeping forces in Donbas, thereby disregarding the Crimea issue as well as the guarantee of Ukraine’s neutrality.

November 5, 2018 - Michał Potocki

Germany is wrong in bolstering the status quo in Belarus

The current way of thinking in Germany and the West, in shaping a policy towards Belarus, is to accept the political status quo, normalise relations with Minsk and help the Belarusian state preserve its independence. This view, however, is seriously flawed.

Europe has fundamentally changed its policy towards Belarus in recent years, and Germany is no exception. Previously, Berlin and other EU capitals addressed Minsk with clear demands to improve its dismal record on human rights, elections, civil society and democracy, and they responded with sanctions to the worst violations of these norms. Now, by contrast, the central driver behind German and European policy seems to be Belarusian independence, whose fragility has been thrown into sharp relief by the aggressive Russian return to geopolitics in the region. This effective shift to realpolitik is, however, fraught with problems and its success is far from certain.

November 5, 2018 - Joerg Forbrig

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