Olga Stuzhinskaya and the Fate of European Sanctions


The initiative voiced by the ODB to fine-tune the criteria of applying the EU visa ban lists to Belarusian officials spread a wide discussion in Belarusian electronic media including Nikolai Khalezin and 'Charter 97', who presented it through the mixture of distorted evidence and unfounded accusations, all shaped in the most inappropriate way. But there were also other opinions expressed on the popular Belarusian web-sites and in some other sources. Bellow, we present a translation of an article initially published on Belarusian Radio Svaboda web-site by political analyst Yury Drakhahrust.

A discussion has been spreading in by.net about the sensational proposal by the head of the “Office for Democratic Belarus” – an NGO based in Brussels. The essence of the proposal is to modify the list of 210 representatives of the Belarusian regime, to whom EU visa and financial sanctions apply. It is proposed to shorten the list by approximately 25 people, predominantly current and former rectors of Universities and journalists, and add to it the officials involved in the Bialiatsky's case.

The first source to publish this proposal was our radio. Vital Rymasheuski first told about this proposal by Ms.Stuzhinskaya during the online conference on radio Svaboda. The first interview with Olga Stuzhnskaya, in which she spelled out her position, was also given to our radio.

From then it went viral. One of the most intriguing moments of the discussion, pointed out by civil activist Volha Karach, was that Olga Stuzhinskaya vaguely hinted to some forces, experts and politicians who stand behind her proposal  and share her position, but left all the pleas as to giving “names and addresses” unanswered.

However, from my point of view, there is in fact no mystery. No, it is not the case that I know some secrets of the “Brussels court”  or of the office administered by Ms.Stuzhinskaya.

In fact, everything has been already written and spoken about.

 “As if it is Newton's binomial theorem”

Our radio has reported about an expert conference titled “Transforming Belarus: Ways Ahead” organized by the scientific centre “Carnegie Europe” of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) and the familiar Ms.Stuzhinskaya's “Office for Democratic Belarus” that took place exactly two months ago in Brussels. Among the participants of the conference from the European side were colleagues from different research centres and certain politicians, in particular, European Commissioner Štefan Füle. BISS expert Dzianis Melyantsou has shared with us some of the conclusions reached at this “brainstorming”.

“The most important for Brussels, at the moment, remains the attempts to transform Belarusian society and work in favour of change, not on the higher level of politics but through influencing the consciousness of Belarusians, developing different aspects of exchanges, solving visa problems, etc. … the leitmotif at this conference was that sanctions are contra-productive when we speak about the  possibility of transformation of the Belarusian political system, because they push Belarus further towards Russia and do not bring changes inside Belarus. A consensus was reached at the conference: real economic sanctions are not a matter of choice for the EU, they are not discussed, they are unlikely to be introduced. Signing agreements with Russia has clearly shown where the sanctions lead to and the Europeans have made conclusions from it”.

Working with nomenklatura was indicated at the conference as one of the prospective directions. This is chosen not due to the expected great outcome from it, but due to evident achievements of the Belarusian opposition in 2011, in the conditions of the unique socio-economic crisis, until last December. When it is necessary to work with Belarusian nomenklatura, would it be worthwhile pushing them away and turning them into an enemy by fortifying, e.g. visa sanctions? At least, please, agree that “this has its own system”.

Another small complement was message by Olga Stuzhynskaya in the interview to “Regnum” agency: “The work of our office is financed by the European Commission, by the support of governments of the EU countries and international funds”.

Is it not very clear now who are the co-authors, and maybe even authors, of the proposal by the head of the “Office for Democratic Belarus”? As the character Begemot from the renowned  Bulgakov's novel said: “As if it is Newton's binomial theorem” .

First digression

It is worthwhile making a short digression here. (to say that..) The crown argument in Belarusian political debates is about who stands behind who and who “sings from whose tone”, as master soviet journalists used to say. The latest example of this genre is an interesting Sunday film by BT (Belarusian Television) about the British Embassy and its visitors. Also, we [our radio] are sinful to often find out from our audience what “lackeys of bloodsucking American imperialism” we are. But in fact this is a quite weak argument. As if anyone could think that the friends of BAJ (Belarusian Association of Journalists) would have turned into the most combatant feathers of “Sovetskaya Belorussiya” and the most sonorous voices of BT had they not have the British and others' assistance. Or, if it wasn't for the EU financing, that Olga Stuzhynskaya would have become the fiery publicist of a portal “Charter -97”. Or that, denied the sources of financing, the fighters for the strictest possible sanctions towards Belarus would have instantly realised that sanctions don't bring happiness. In the end, on the contrary, all other things being equal, people are looking for the sources of support from those whose views diverge least from their own; and often they find it. Therefore before providing the undeniable proof of mercenary motives, it is easier and appropriate to presume that in their deeds people are driven by their own minds and their own foolishness.

This is to say that the small research presented above is not at all a reproach to Olga Stuzhynskaya. She just voiced not only her own position but also a position of a considerable part of the European political and analytical community. Instead of reproachfully attacking her, it should be in fact realised whose position it is, how it was reached and why the proposal should be listened to.

Second digression

Here, it is worth paying attention to another feature of the domestic verbal battles. In the arguments about Western politics, the understanding that it is THEIR politics, THEIR sanctions and THEIR cancellation of sanctions, THEIR evaluations of the general conditions of THEIR resources, and finally THEIR personal relations with Belarusian authorities is sometimes elusively lost. All of it is theirs, not ours. It is theirs even more, due to the fact that the current sanctions towards Belarus are not an application of the universal approach (when the authorities anywhere in the world do so, the response is this). But on the contrary they are the thing absolutely exclusive, an ad hoc decision, taken in regard to very different causes, some of which might not even have come to mind to some users of the Belarusian internet. For instance, when Nazarbaev has shot his workers in Zhanaazen last year – where were the sanctions against him? Again, it is said not to reproach, nor to expose the “double standards” of insidious Europe that contrast so much with the moral purity of the population of by.net. It is said to illustrate the same idea – it is their business, their politics. Today that is the adopted policy, tomorrow another.

I was amused by the phrase of one respected political scientist: “Europe must be coerced...”. But if there is such unsurpassed force to coerce Europe, maybe it would be worthwhile using this force to the straight purpose of directly coercing Alyaksandr Rygoravich Lukashenka to something? At least Europe, that is now concerned with completely different problems, would be grateful for that.

Jokes aside, one should be more modest in their demands and more adequately estimate their role in  Brussels' and everyone else's decisions. Inside Belarus, however, it is a different story- here Belarusians are indeed the last and ultimate instance. Attitude of Europe will depend on what Belarusians do in their home country. It can be coerced indeed, but by the actions taken within the country. However, if the outcome of these actions are not inspirational, even though they may have a million reasons and conditions for that, Europe will proceed precisely according to the outcome, and not to the reasons and conditions. Europeans might even think that people who achieve such meagre success at home don't know their country well enough and therefore their suggestions might (only) be worthwhile listening to. Yet, it is worthwhile making their own conclusions, making their own decisions, based on their own minds and their own foolishness.

Radio Svaboda