By Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs.
The crisis in Belarus goes far beyond the violent aftermath of its presidential election in August.
For decades, under Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, the country has witnessed successive waves of repression. With an opposition too weak and divided to overcome to the regime, Lukashenko has had free reign to exert massive control on Belarusian society, while flirting with both Russia and the West.
And for decades, the European Union has been extremely patient, taking the smallest change in Belarus for a sign of progress.
It’s clear now, however, that we’ve reached a tipping point. If the EU wants to be a powerful player on the world stage and in its immediate Eastern neighborhood, it urgently needs a new approach to the region, and to Belarus in particular. Words of condemnation and regret, and the other usual buzzwords, are no longer enough.
In recent years, we saw some positive shifts in Belarus’ foreign policy. Dialogue with the EU became more constructive and relations with the U.S. have been restored. On my last visit to Belarus, Vladimir Makei, the country’s foreign minister, made a speech in Belarusian at a public event — something that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.
Belarus’ ossified power structure, however, failed to recognize these important signs of liberalization and reawakening. The Belarusian people’s reaction to the August election showed their patience has come to an end.
It has also become clear that Lukashenko has never been interested in modernizing the country, or in real independence for Belarus: All he wants is to stay in power.