By Dzianis Melyantsou and Vitali Silitski
The rise in Schengen visa fees and the expansion of the Schengen Zone to the Belarusian borders inDecember 2007 not only substantially complicated the trans-border contacts but also caused a negative effect for the image of the European Union inside Belarus, working to indirectly strengthen the repressive political system in the country. These tendencies are in the entire contradiction to the intention to facilitate democratization of Belarus through a dialogue with the society articulated by the EU. The absence of political will within the EU and reluctance of official Minsk to make a step towards Europe do not allow solving the problem of high visa fees for Belarusian with the help of central EU institutions. The EU has to realize that the visa issue is one of few real policy tools that can be used to leverage positive political and social changes in Belarus. For that, a certain ‘mindset change’ in Brussels and members states is necessary: visa policy has to be shifted from being a tool of government-to-government conditionality to an instrument of proactive policy targeted directly to the societies of neighboring countries and, particularly, Belarus. On its own side, the Belarusian civil society has to boost its own cause by intensification of pro-European activities inside the country. In the mean time, instruments existing under the current Schengen acquis may be utilized to facilitate visa issuing procedures.