“Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka is interested in maintaining a freedom of manoeuvre in relations with the European Union and Russia. He cannot always ignore the EU because his country becomes more vulnerable in relations with Moscow. His interest is not to deviate too much to the East and the EU should make best use of it to facilitate democratic changes in the country,” Belgian e-media EUobserver quotes Justas Paleckis, Vice-chair for the EP Delegation for relations with Belarus.
Opening “all gates, doors and even windows” for people-to-people contacts with this country first of all by unilaterally reducing the Schengen visa costs to an affordable level could be the best incentive for democratic change in Belarus, Lithuanian MEP said.
“Currently Belarusians pay €60 for a Schengen visa, while the Russians, Ukrainians and many other Eastern EU neighbours pay significantly less – €35. If by imposing these high costs the EU wants to punish Aliaksandr Lukashenka, the aim has gone wide of the target. Reducing the visa costs is even more relevant bearing in mind that Belarusians have been obtaining the greatest number of Schengen visas per capita in the world in recent years. This fact alone indicates the EU orientation of Belarusians,” Mr Paleckis suggests.
In his opinion, it is very important to demolish all artificial barriers at border crossings, in consulates and other institutions. The situation in the country will change only if the society changes and the society will change if there are more contacts between the EU citizens and Belarus citizens, he added.
In the initial version of his report on the situation in Belarus, which was prepared for the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European External Action Service, Justas Paleckis said that an improvement of the situation of human rights was discernible in 2012 and the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian society launched in 2012 has had a positive impact on the development of civil society in Belarus, and offered a number of recommendations.
The report drew indignation among Belarusian opposition activists and human rights defenders. According to Mr Paleckis, more than 300 amendments and suggestions have been submitted with regard to the report. In an interview with the Belarus Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on May 24, Mr. Paleckis said he regretted having said that the human rights situation in Belarus had improved.
Belsat, following EUobserver