It is a rainy summer week in Strasbourg. The Bearus opposition leader Milinkevich and his wife Inna are attending a summer university organised by the Council of Europe. Thanks to a friend a short-notice meeting between the Milinkevichs (Alaksandr and his wife Inna) could be organised.
Mr Milinkevich is very grateful that JEF has organised the Belarus action for the second consecutive year (see my entries with the Press Release here). Raising awareness for the situation in Belarus is and will be an ongoing challenge for all democrats. Asked about how JEF can further remain involved and useful, Mr Milinkevich suggested us to get in touch with his young advisers in Minsk. He was also convinced that some of his activists can be helpful in preparing the ground for a JEF section in Belarus.
Mr Milinkevich shares JEF’s goal of a European federation as a long-term vision. However, he admits that in a country like his the “nation-building” (e.g. Belorussians have not had the chance to study their own history in recent time) is a necessary prerequisite: “federalisation will happen, it is the right idea but some nations need more time to join”.
Russia will most likely remain to be a problem. Mr Milinkevich does not expect anything to change with the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia in the next half year. The same group of people is to stay in power and continue with this autocratic system. Not only are most of them traditionally well linked to the secret service, it is their “empire-thinking” which complicates relations to neighbours and the rest of the world so much.
For the rest of Europe there are two ways to help the Belarussian opposition. On the one hand institutions like the Council of Europe and even more so the Commission should continue with their programmes and financial support and bring Belarussians in contact with other people, e.g. through summer universities and stipends. On the other hand it is at least equally important to continue the moral support. One such symbol was a phone call from EU High Representative Solana who called Milinkevich on his mobile during the protests in March last year. Solana told him “I am with you and you have all my support” – well-aware of the fact that the Belarus KGB was listening.
The one hour talk with Mr Milinkevich was a great experience. He and his wife (and chief adviser) Inna are reflected persons who have luckily kept their humour. However, it was quite an experience to go through the one-hour meeting with poor Kate having to translate between Russian and English.