Head of EU Parliament Delegation for Relations with Belarus Bogdan Klich: Amnesty in July is test for Minsk political good will

Bogdan Klich does not mind to start his day talking about Belarus even if he is on vacation with his family. He is one of those who consider the phrase Belarusian Parliament to be a euphemism and insists that the nature of the Belarusian regime is dictatoral. Polish MEP takes his responsibilities seriously and is consistent in his statements and decisions.

- Mr.Klich, do you like Belarusians?
- Of course. Poles and Belarusians have strong ties and very much in common both culturally and historically. We have similar fates as nations: in 19th and 20th centuries we were oppressed. Both Poles and Belarusians are proud of their heritage and achievements; neither of us is too pragmatic. Sure, I like the people of Belarus and feel close to them, which has always been the reason for me to engage in the dialogue with them.
- Have you been often in Belarus?
- Oh yes, but some time ago. My political contacts with this country started in the mid 90s, when, together with Stanislav Shushkevich and a Russian politician Galina Starovoytova, I co-organised a seminar on democratic perspectives for Belarus. That was actually my first meeting with the opposition when what I learnt about the situation in Belarus as a student. This meeting confronted the reality and awoke my interest in the country.
Later on I promoted the dialogue with Belarus in Zagranica Group, an association of Polish non-governmental organizations that through various projects transferred the democratic know-how. This period added up to my knowledge about Belarus, its people, opposition in the country. In 2002-2003 as the deputy head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Polish Parliament I helped to organise the visits of Belarusian democratic opposition and the widows of the disappeared to Poland. The most fruitful and interesting meetings we had in Belarus were in 2003 when with a group of Polish parliamentarians we observed local elections and travelled a lot through the country.
Last time I was allowed to come to Belarus was 2004 before my election to the European Parliament.
- Would you describe the work of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Belarus that you head as effective?
- Well, paradoxically enough, the biggest success of the Delegation is a non-paper that was presented by the Commission in November 2006. Our strategic goal was to persuade the EU Council and the Commission to take a more assertive approach to Belarus. Frankly speaking, the means of the Parliament to interfere in domestic affairs are limited, the Council and the Commission have more instruments. Their non-paper clearly illustrates the spectacular prospects of co-operation, draws a tempting road map of the future relations. And condition for them.
- Recently UN Human Rights Council abolished the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Could something similar happen with the Delegation?
- Actually, the case with the Delegation might be that its policy would change. After the proposal of the Council and Commission, meetings with the Belarusian ambassador to Brussels Vladimir Senko, split in the democratic camp in Belarus, decision of the Administration to establish a representation office of the EU Commission in Minsk, we began to think about sending a fact-finding mission to the country and wouldn’t exclude a dialogue with authorities. If the delegation is to go to Minsk, we would have a broad agenda, meetings with both wings of the democratic camp, representatives of NGOs, newly created parties like the Green party, as well as representatives of the Administration of President and, so to say, Belarusian parliamentarians.
We would like to learn more about the situation in Belarus, meet people that we have never had a chance to meet. It depends on Belarus though. In the last years we were either refused visas or not allowed to visit. Moreover, Minsk should make another significant step towards the West. We could test its good political will already in July – whether Belarusian authorities will use the next amnesty to release political prisoners.
- Don’t you think Minsk has already started this dialogue?
- There have been several declarations made, for instance concerning the new policy and openness towards the West. But these are declarations. There were first small political steps taken that seem to confirm the statements, and the most important was the positive reply to the opening of the EU Commission representation. But these steps are still below the level of our expectations. The non-paper clearly shows that we need improvement in at least 4 areas: release of political prisoners and creating opportunities for a public dialogue – which is freedom of speech, assembly and association. Without these improvements we can’t talk about cooperation.
- Would you bring your family to Belarus on vacation?
- I would really love to. It would be a pleasure to spend a week in the Belarusian part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. I also heard a lot of the Lake District in Belarus. You have a very beautiful country!
Bogdan Klich is a Polish Member of the European Parliament and the chairman of Delegation for relations with Belarus since 2004.
Born in 1960, Krakow. Krakow Medical University, Masters in the History of Art, Jagiellonian University (1987). Was Advisor to the Chief Negotiator of the Republic of Poland with the European Union (1989-1999), was Deputy Minister for National Defence (1999-2000), Member of Parliament of the Republic of Poland, Polish representative and member of the Policy Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (2001-2004). Member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London.
Interview conducted by Maryna Rakhlei