Gebhardt Weiss, German ambassador: “Not only a dialogue between the EU and Belarus, but a dialogue inside the country is important”
The 10th Minsk Forum “Belarus: European Nation in Transition: Identities and Cooperation in Politics, Economics, Society” has taken place on November 22-25. German ambassador to Belarus Dr. Gebhardt Weiss in his speech at the forum emphasized the fact that in actions of Belarusian elites from different camps lack rationalism. As an example he offered the European March, which was finally allowed, but arrests took place on the eve of the rally. The diplomat asked why activists were imprisoned before the rally while the decision had been taken to allow the march. Today answers questions of the Charter’97 press-center.
- Mister Ambassador, what was different about Minsk Forum as compared to previous ones?
- As I arrived in Minsk in July this year, this jubilee forum has become the first one for me. Participants who visited previous forums, say to me that a new spirit of a dialogue has emerged, the atmosphere and exchange of opinions have improved. The contribution of participants both from the side of government agencies and their opponents. There were less overly emotional speeches. The general desire for a more constructive approach to a dialogue has reinforced. I have noticed myself that working groups, plenary sessions have passed in a rather good atmosphere. And the main signal of the forum is that the dialogue is possible.
- German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler visited the Forum and stated that Germany is concerned over human rights violations in Belarus and supports appeals of the EU to release political prisoners.
- Our position in this sphere is known for all. There is nothing surprising in it. But it is very important for us to contribute to elimination of this situation. As for the objective of the EU in this sphere, it’s our objective as well. I have expressed this position myself many times. But maybe against the background of the historical experience, especially as a result of overcoming the conflict between East and West after the World War II, the element of a dialogue along this difficult path is very important for Germans. It is extremely important now, when different framework conditions are changing around Belarus, certain geopolitical factors are influencing, an internal necessity of modernization exists…
By the way, not only the dialogue between the EU and Belarus, but within the country is important. I am very glad that the demonstration on October 14 (the European March) was connected to the concept of a dialogue. I remember progressive Belarusian youth carrying a slogan “Dialogue between democratic forces and the regime”.
- The position of the EU is very clear. The Belarusian authorities first are to release political prisoners, and then fulfill other EU recommendations. How do you assess prospects of such development of the situation?
- As for the concrete situation, by diplomatic means we are going to stimulate openness of all our partners in Belarusian structures who have an opportunity to change the situation by turning it towards a new thinking. I think that in reality there are chances for that, and we should act with certain patience. Certainly, we could only act as a catalyst in this matter, we are not interfering in the internal affairs, so it is even more important for us to hold this discussion not for effect, but using diplomatic means. I believe that otherwise it could be counterproductive for performing important efforts in human rights sphere, rule of law state, modernization and so on.
Because of the of stagnation in the central political region, realization of the steps to the real cooperation is certainly lower than potential, but one should say that there are very many sectors behind this word “cooperation” where we could pragmatically work together. I could offer as an example the spheres where we are connected by common interests: economy, ecology, infrastructure events, migration problems, and struggle on drug trafficking. We are to work together certainly, and the EU is doing the same too. For example, look at the issue of border service modernization. From the side of the EU a considerable amount of money is invested to it, and it shows that in reality cooperation is developing.
- And in which spheres cooperation with the regime is impossible until political prisoners are not release?
- I wouldn’t like to talk specifically about that now, in this potentially new phase of development. However, against the background of the common national interest towards independence retaining and simultaneous modernization, it seems to me that both for the regime and for the opposition of Belarus it is a priority to find a way out of this, I wouldn’t say a deadlock, but an abnormal situation. You could be sure that I would like to see a situation where normalization inside the country, as well as in the relations with the EU, would be possible.
- Does it mean that the dialogue of Belarus with Europe should be preceded by a dialogue of the regime and the opposition inside the country?
- Sometimes I speak about certain elements of irrationalism in the general political and economic system, and the way the opposition would organize itself, would influence its capability to influence the general situation. I strongly support the idea of e dialogue between the regime and the opposition. Recently Brandenburg Prime Minister Mr. Platzek delivered a speech here, in Minsk International Educational center, and he spoke about the main political slogan of our former Federal President Johannes Rau: “Reconciliation instead of separation”. And I repeat that it is very important to apply this principle, it would be very constructive against the background of new challenges for Belarus, to achieve two interrelated main aims: on the one hand, to retain and strengthen independence, and on the other, to carry out modernization. I think that to realize these interrelated objectives in Belarus the EU could be a very productive partner, as there is no concept of dominant politics in Belarus, and only a concept of neighbourhood and partnership.