EU Envoy to Belarus Suffered from 'Stress,' not Beating

The EU's top man in Belarus, Hungarian diplomat Ferenc Kontra, has said the "stress" of working in Minsk might have led to his recent stay in hospital. He described reports that he was beaten as "speculation".

"Of course the very tense situation here in the past few months, the pressure that was on me ... may have contributed to my [medical] condition. It's simple stress. Maybe a little bit of hard luck, a slightly high blood sugar level," he told EUobserver by phone from Minsk on Wednesday (26 January).

Police cordon on 19 December 2010: 'Here in Minsk, it's not an easy job,' Ferenc said (Photo: Leonid Varlamov | )

He confirmed that there was "no physical contact" between any Belarusian policeman and himself during anti-government demonstrations in Minsk on the night of 19 December.

He added, however: "If I had remained there for another period of time I don't exclude the possibility that there could have been a confrontation because they [Belarusian riot police] were not asking who was who. In their eyes everyone was a protester."

Mr Ferenc spoke out after information circulated in EU diplomatic circles that a policeman had hit him on the head and that the blow may have aggravated his old eyesight problem.

The reports began to circulate after he spent almost two weeks in hospital earlier this month and missed a big EU meeting in Vilnius. "Of course, there were some worries and I understand there could be some speculation about what happened and what was the reason that I did not attend," the ambassador said.

He noted that the "stress" built up over a period of months. In protocol terms, Mr Ferenc represented the EU on behalf of the Belgian EU presidency (which has no embassy in Minsk) in late 2010 and is now doing the job for the Hungarian EU presidency. "Here in Minsk, it's not an easy job," he said.

The veteran diplomat painted a vivid picture of events last month.

He said he went to the Independence Square in Minsk together with two other EU ambassadors as part of their normal duties to observe important demonstrations.

At one point, he received a report that the security situation "is going to be dangerous." He escorted his fellow ambassadors, who were women, to their car. They drove away but he stayed.

Shortly after midnight, Mr Ferenc wanted to go home. But riot police had created a cordon around the whole area, trapping him and other bystanders, and then "began to attack everybody."

"I was totally alone. I kept contact with some colleagues by phone but we were not able to meet each other ... it was impossible to leave," he said. "This is very important: the police gave no escape route to people who wanted to leave."

In a sign of the indiscriminate nature of the violence, Mr Ferenc noted that around 80 plain clothes policemen, who had been planted in the crowd, were also hurt.

Asked by EUobserver why the riot squad used so much violence against fellow, peaceful Belarusians, he said the highly-disciplined police felt no affinity with anti-government people from the capital city: "The police units did not come from Minsk. They came from I don't know which town. They were regional police ... They got the command and they did what they were instructed to do."

EU Observer