Belarus – On the current situation and politics of a country, which has become the target of an openly hostile attitude

by Aliaksandr Ganevich, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Switzerland*

cc. In accordance with the principle of “audiatur et altera pars” (“hear also the other side”), Current Concerns also wants to let those speak for themselves who are otherwise only talked and written about. Last year, the Republic of Belarus was again strongly in the headlines after the presidential elections conducted there. We do not need to repeat what was written and broadcast about it in the West. However, it could also be the case that in reality things in this country are different from the way they are usually presented to us. The following is the text of the speech by Aliaksandr Ganevich, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus in Switzerland, which he has made available to us for publication.

I am pleased to be here today to describe the current situation in my country and around Belarus. I thank the organisers of this year's conference “Mut zur Ethik” for the invitation and the interest in what is happening in my country.

Negative headlines and a ray of light

In recent months, the Republic of Belarus has often been in the headlines, also in the Swiss media. The focus has been almost exclusively on negative aspects. Journalists liked to report repressions and arrests, every occasion was used to attack and demonise the state leadership of my country.
  Against this background, Professor Bachmeier’s great article in the independent journal Current Concerns in October 2020 was really like a ray of light. I think the article still remains topical and best explains what happened in Belarus after the presidential elections a year ago and what – or who – was behind it.

Another look at the mass protests after the elections

To summarise this in a certain sense, I would like to quote the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who said the following during the Big Conversation with mass media on 9 August 2021, some weeks ago:
  “As for the peaceful mass protests, we have seen that they were anything but peaceful. We can show you photo and video recordings where our OMON people [editor’s note: Special Purpose Police Unit] were run over by cars. We can show you policemen with serious injuries. Tell me, who started these riots? Did I need this war? Absolutely not. I wanted everything to be peaceful and calm. Anything else would be detrimental to me.”
  According to the head of state, unauthorised mass protests were financed from the West. The coup attempt was planned before the official election results were announced.
  The President expressed his conviction: “We have passed a very tough test, the test on national unity. We have everything to come through this phase of recent history with dignity. Our people can think, they are educated and they stand up for the interests of sovereign Belarus. There is an understanding (agreement) that there is one goal in mind with regard to the representation of national interests, namely the preservation of the state.”

Measures were necessary and are also being taken in many other democratic countries

We are convinced that the reaction on the part of the security authorities would have been very similar in the West in such a situation. We have already witnessed much tougher police action in France, Germany and other democratic countries.
  The authorities in Belarus should prevent the chaos that could endanger the life and health of our citizens and also be exploited by third forces in their own interests. It is clear to what serious consequences it can lead if such a situation gets out of control.

The fate of Belarus is decided by its people

We firmly believe that the fate of Belarus will not be decided by street rallies with dubious external mediation, but by the Belarusian people themselves in a civilised manner and strictly within the legal framework.
  The situation in Belarus has visibly calmed down and normalised in recent months. People have returned to normal life, businesses are functioning, state organs are fulfilling their tasks, there are no riots or mass actions.
  The economy is developing in a dynamic way, for example, Belarusian exports have increased by 37.8% in the first seven months of this year, and exports to the countries of the European Union have even doubled.

What the constitutional reform is about

On 11–12 February 2021, the 6th All-Belarusian People’s Assembly was held in Minsk, where strategic issues of the future development of Belarus were discussed. The Forum was attended by a total of 2,400 delegates, including parliamentarians and employees, representatives of religious organisations and NGOs, representatives of the private business, pensioners and students. Leaders were invited from all registered political parties and movements, including the opposition. Almost 60% of the delegates were younger than 50.
  The discussions held and decisions taken during the Forum confirmed the determination of the majority of Belarusians for changes in social and political life. The process of constitutional reform, which is actively underway in Belarus right now, should serve this purpose. The following stages are envisaged:

  • Preparation and discussion of the draft of the new Constitution in 2021;
  • Conduct of the popular referendum on this issue in early 2022;
  • Adjustment of legislation to the new Constitution in 2022.

Core elements of the new Constitution are to include:

  • Redistribution of powers between the president and the government, the president and the parliament, regional and local authorities;
  • anchoring of a fair social contract;
  • the special role of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly as a constitutional body.

On 16 March 2021 the Constitutional Commission was formed, headed by the Chairman of the Constitutional Court. The body consists of 36 people, including representatives of state bodies, associations, companies, legal scholars and other experts.
  The draft constitution is almost ready and will be submitted for public discussion in the coming weeks.

Promotion of social and economic human rights

Among the central topics of discussion during the 6th All-Belarusian People’s Assembly was the promotion of social and economic human rights. The course of maintaining the welfare state as the “immutable national brand” of Belarus was confirmed.
  The government will strengthen and further develop the following areas:

  • State guarantees of pension support for the population;
  • Free health care and education;
  • Support for large families, orphans and other vulnerable groups;
  • Promotion of corporate social responsibility;
  • State support for the constructive activity of traditional confessions and the preservation of religious peace;
  • Preservation of the ideological foundations of the Belarusian nation and its historical and cultural heritage; support for art and culture;
  • Special attention to work with young people, education to patriotism and formation of a healthy lifestyle.

New investment projects and regional development

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus announced 500 new investment projects in industry. It is planned to develop at least five new innovative industries: Electric Transportation, Bioindustry, Pharmaceuticals, Robotics, and Composite Materials Manufacturing.
  A regional development program will be implemented, focusing on cities with over 80,000 inhabitants, improving the quality of life, supporting infrastructure projects, road construction and renovation.
  The government will further develop the traditional industries – mechanical engineering, chemical industry, agriculture – on a new technological and digital basis.

Determined to prevent any interference in the internal affairs of Belarus

In Belarus, we are committed to a civilised dialogue between the government and society in order to meet the current needs and challenges. In doing so, we are determined not to give in to external pressures on our country and to prevent any interference in the internal affairs of Belarus.
  For the first time in the history of our country we are confronted with such a massive external attack. This pressure takes various forms, including the imposition of ever new sanctions against our country, which are in fact aimed at undermining its economic stability and thus weakening state sovereignty.

Sanctions: wrong, destructive, futile, against international law

In this sense, we deeply regret decisions of the Swiss side to adopt EU sanctions against the Republic of Belarus. These are not only measures against specific citizens and companies, but also sectoral economic sanctions, which are aimed at important sectors of the Belarusian economy and will cause negative consequences, especially for employees and their families.
  We remain firmly convinced that sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy are completely wrong in today’s mutually interdependent world and cannot bring about positive changes. They force sanctioned states to take countermeasures, which impairs the development of bilateral relations. A sanctions spiral is always destructive and dangerous for both sides.
  Belarus has constantly opposed and continues to oppose the violation of the universally recognised principles and norms of international law. We are convinced that unilateral sanctions have no legitimacy and are futile from the outset.
  No one benefits from the fact that the West has imposed an actual blockade of Belarus, including a completely unfounded blockade of air traffic with our country.
  Unless it satisfies ambitions of individual politicians and radicals who want to increase their political capital through such actions. These politicians start from the false premise that the government in Belarus is supposedly weak and will be overthrown by the people. But this is self-deception. The mindset of “the more harm to the people, the worse for the regime” is untenable and counterproductive for everyone. Of course, there will be some costs to deal with, but ultimately Belarus will withstand it and continue its progressive development. Everyone will only lose by blockades and sanctions.

Good bilateral relations between Belarus and Switzerland are in the interest of both countries and peoples

We continue to believe that the maintenance and development of good bilateral relations between the Republic of Belarus and the Swiss Confederation would fully correspond to the interests of our countries and peoples. Belarus is interested in the continuation of inter-parliamentary cooperation, rhythmic work of the Swiss-Belarusian Joint Economic Commission, development of mutual trade and successful activity of Swiss enterprises in our country, mutual support within the framework of international organisations.

Ready for dialogue on an equal footing and on the basis of mutual respect

Despite the openly hostile attitude of many Western states, the Republic of Belarus continues to reaffirm its readiness to continue and develop dialogue on an equal footing and on the basis of mutual respect.
  We call on all partners not to make hasty and emotional decisions based on insufficient and often inaccurate information, to break with the logic of confrontation, to recognise the harmfulness of the sanctions policy, and to return to pragmatic and effective way of dealing with each other that would benefit all.
  Thank you for your attention and I am pleased to answer your questions. I would also be very interested in your comments and suggestions. •

* Lecture “Mut zur Ethik” – Annual Conference: “The bonum commune in relations between people, nations and states: Solving problems and conflicts with dignity – with one another rather than against one another” 3–5 September 2021 in Sirnach TG).
(Translated from German)

Aliaksandr Ganevich has been the Extraordinary Ambassador and Plenipotentiary (First Class) of the Republic of Belarus in the Swiss Confederation since 2020. He was born in Lida, Grodno Region. He completed his education at the Military Command School in Ussuriysk, at the Moscow Diplomatic Academy and at the Diplomatic School of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. Since 1993 he has worked in the diplomatic service in Minsk, Berlin, Bern and Munich. 
  Aliaksandr Ganevich is married and has two children. 
  He speaks Belarusian, Russian and German.

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